30 May 2005

This is an example of one of my mini-amphorae. The neck is thrown on the microwheel and the handles are pulled as they would be for a larger scale piece. The body is handbuilt from a textured slab. I'm not sure if the current series will be fully glazed or will be like these -- glazed on the neck and handles with Albany slip to accent the textured body. This approach is certainly easier to fire because I can support the pieces in the kiln without wires and don't have to worry about adverse effects on the glaze from contact with the wires. Posted by Hello

And the wheel goes 'round...

I set up the MicroWheel in the studio this morning so that I could throw necks for some mini amphorae. I've made these in the past and they're such classic forms that they appeal to the art history enthusiast in me. I make a hand-built body for the vessel and then wheel throw the neck and add handles.

I can tell that it's been a long time since I've thrown anything because I was only able to get three necks thrown, but it's nice to have everything set up and I'm sure that I'll be back in a rhythm in no time. I have a plastic box in the studio with about 8 thrown necks in it that I never did anything with. I may actually consider firing them and using them to make molds of some sort... It feels a little like cheating, so I don't know if I will or not.

Mica had a fussy day today. I think that she may be teething. She cut her bottom teeth quite some time ago so it wouldn't be surprising if she was teething, but it's frustrating when she's unhappy and I can't do anything to fix it. That's another factor in why I was only able to throw 3 necks today. I'd sit down at the wheel and start to center, and she'd throw a toy and I'd get up to retrieve it and when i tried to sit down she'd cry.

Tommorrow I need to mail the pieces for the Bead and Button show to Melanie. Before I can do that, i need to remove the high temp wires and scrub the pit-fired twisties so that they're nice and clean for the eventual buyers. I can't wait to hear what Melanie thinks of the stuff when it arrives.

29 May 2005

It's late. Mica is ready for sleeping. I spent part of the afternoon power-washing the wooden boxes for the bead displays so that I can play with them. With the exception of about an hour in the studio, I just don't feel like I got much done today. I did, however, want to post a picture this evening before I went to bed so that I could show what Innna looks like finished. I'm packing her in the box to send to Melanie for Bead and Button... Hopefully the porcupine quills will survive the trip. Posted by Hello

28 May 2005

This is Opulence "Spruce Green" over Georgie's "Midnight Blue". It looks a little less like spray paint, and there are a couple of really interesting areas, but all-in-all, I think it still needs something. I may try dry brushing the blue over the spruce for a different effect or I may decide that I have other combinations which work better for me and find other ways to use the midnight blue to get the most out of it. Posted by Hello

This is glazed with a combination of two Opulence glazes, "Autumn Frost" over "Spruce Green" I like the color variations but all of the texture and the detail of the vessel has been lost under the glaze. I will probably experiment further with this combination. Maybe try dry brushing the autumn frost over a heavier application of the spruce green? The variation of color is nice but i want to see more of the piece itself. Posted by Hello

Going back to my glazing notes, this pair of vessels is glazed with Opulence "Autumn Frost" over Georgie's "Midnight Blue". I love the deapth of the glaze and the variation of the color. I think that I'll probably be doing a lot with this combination. Posted by Hello

27 May 2005

I couldn't resist sharing a picture of Oya's face. The Orisha is often associated with the wind. Posted by Hello
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This is Oya. Heather named her because she said that this doll reminded her of the Orisha. Oya is not finished but she won't tell me what to do next. I don't think that she trusts me. I suspect that she wants me to get a little more experience making dolls before she'll let me know where she wants to take me. Posted by Hello
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This is Innna. Her name is derived from the name of the Goddess Inanna who is the Queen of Heaven and is often described as wearing a crown of stars... There was something about the way that the light catches the beads at the end of the porcupine quills on her head that mede me think of a crown of stars, so I went with it. Posted by Hello
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There are sixteen glazed shell vessels (or at least parts of them) in this image. I'm sending 32 glazed shells to the Bead and Button show.  Posted by Hello
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These are the glazed half moon vessels that I unloaded from the kiln this morning along with 5 which are made from dark stoneware with Albany slip rubbed into the details. I love the way that the albany slip accents the details, but it seems to be a "potter thing." Posted by Hello

These are half of the glazed shell vessels currently wrapped and ready to go in the mail. I wanted to have a reference for inventory purposes so that I would have an idea which glazes were most popular at the show. Hopefully this will help me to better prepare for the shows that Kim and I are doing this fall. Posted by Hello
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26 May 2005

A very long day

Mica was awake and happy at 7am. Normally she'd fall back asleep in short order, but not today! She dozed off for a while, I thought maybe I'd get a little more sleep, she woke up thrilled to be alive. I'm not complaining, or at least not much, it just made for a longer day than I expected. I did, however, get a few things done.

My bisque firing from yesterday ended up being a longer and slower bisque than I usually go for, even taking into account the moderate moisture level of some of the pieces in the load. I nearly panicked when I went to unload the kiln and discovered that not only wasn't it cool, it hadn't even shut off yet. (I'd never turned it up to high... Apparently the kiln can fire **FOREVER** without shutting off if you leave the infinite switch set to "3".) I switched it to high and it shut off within an hour. I was a little concerned that it wouldn't be cool enough to glaze the contents and fire them before I need to ship my work to Melanie tomorrow. It actually worked out quite well and the kiln has been off for about 2 hours and should be ready to unload and inventory in the morning.

As an added bonus, I have 2 pieces in the kiln which I did just for fun. My friend Heather has given me a few "imps" of fragrance oils from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and I decided to make pendant vessels to hold them. I have two of these imp holders in the kiln with the half moon vessels. They're textured with a weblike texture and glazed on the inside with the dreadful krylon blue from Georgie's and on the outside with a combination of opulence glazes, eggshell over grease for one and autumn frost over grease for the other.

I actually took notes on my glazing today, so if there's anything that I really like i have a pretty good chance (maybe 1 in 4) of figuring out how I got it. I need to start thinking about these things since Kim and I will be doing bead shows this fall and I need to make stock.

Speaking of Kim, she called earlier to say that the pit firing yeilded good results... i'll see her tomorrow and actually see the pieces first hand. I can't wait, I'm picking 2 of the twistie beads to use as arms for an art doll that I worked on some today. She is made from scraps of felted wool from a thrift shop sweater, and has wool hair from some yarn that Heather gave me (you gotta love knitters... they discard the most wonderful fibers...) and a "crown" of porcupine quills with beads at the tips to make them a little less lethal.

25 May 2005

Pit Firing

A quick update while Mica's asleep in her swing and her daddy is getting ready for work.

Today, Kim is planning a pit firing and I need to drive the pieces that I unloaded from the kiln this morning to her studio. The twistie beads look alright now but, with any luck at all, they'll look stunning with metalic reduction.

The pit firing process that we use is a little different from that most commonly used. Kim and I pre-fire our work in an electric kiln. That, in itself, is not unusual but we actually glaze the pieces with modified raku glazes and pre-fire the glazes to maturation in the electric kiln. The result is a finish which is very similar to and easily confused with raku.

"So why not just raku fire your beads?" I'm asked... Raku firing involves firing pieces until the glaze matures and removing the red-hot pieces from the kiln to transfer them to a post-firing reduction chamber. That chamber is commonly a trash can with straw, leaves, grass clippings, shredded paper, or other combustible materials inside. The heat from the red-hot pottery ignites the fuel and then a lid is placed over the chamber so that the flames are smothered. Since fire needs oxygen to burn, once the lid is placed on the chamber the fire consumes all of the oxygen in the chamber and then steals oxygen molecules from the glaze. The result is that the mineral oxides which color the glazes loose the extra oxygen molecule and return to a mineral state.

The most common example of this is copper oxide. When fired in an electric kiln with lots of oxygen, copper oxide makes a green glaze. It is the same principal which causes copper roofs like on a state-house dome to tarnish and turn green. In the absence of oxygen, metals will not tarnish. I'm sure that a chemist would probably have some corrections to make to my description but, it will suffice for now.

When you raku fire beads, or anything without much thermal mass, it has been my experience that the pieces cool too much between the kiln and the post-firing reduction chamber to ignite the combustible materials. As a result, very little reduction is achieved. I know people whose efforts have brought them much different results but I've not had the liberty of exhaustive experimentation and, as a result, am happier with the pit firing method that we've developed.

Pit firing may seem, at first, more labor intensive. First there is the digging of the pit. Kim has a pit next to her studio which has become a permanent fixture, she even had a metal shed built over/around it so that it would be somewhat protected from the elements. Next there is the gathering of wood. We use a lot of sticks, twigs, dead-fall branches, etc. Since Kim supplements the heat in her studio with a wood-burning stove, there is also cord wood available. With the pit dug and the wood gathered, the first step is to lay a bed of sticks, branches and kindling in the pit. Onto this bed we begin arranging the pieces which we'll be firing. I never actually count how many pieces go in, but I know that it would take several raku firings to equal the number of pieces in the pit. Once the beads, vessels, and other pieces are loaded, we start laying more wood on top of the pit. Starting with branches and twigs, sometimes adding heavier boards, etc.

The twigs and branches burn fast and hot leaving a bed of coals. Once the fire has burnt down to embers, we bury the whole pit in a combination of sawdust and soil. At this point we usually go to lunch or something to kill time for an hour or two before the un-earthing. Once the pit has cooled some, we dig out the contents using a shovel and some barbeque tongs. It is a slow process, each shovel-full of dirt and ash must be carefully examined to ensure that there are no beads mixed in. A bucket of water comes in handy for quencing those pieces that are still hot, and a garden hose allows us to put out smoldering hot spots if we find them while we dig.

Once the pieces have been recovered from the earth, they must be cleaned. Many of them come out of the pit looking less appealing than the charcoal remnants of our firewood. With careful scrubbing we are often amazed at what we discover. The crackling of the glazes caused by thermal shock and uneven expansion and contraction because of the play of fire... The smoking which highlights those craze lines and gives the pieces an ancient and timeless quality... and most magically of all, the reduction. It is unpredictable at best. Two pieces placed right next to each other and uncovered in the same shovel-full may be as different as night and day. A single piece may seem barely effected by the process except for one tiny area which was kissed by a hot ember when the pit was buried and reduced to a bright copper flash.

Kim and I loose a lot of pieces in the process. Sometimes the glaze boils and bubbles. Sometimes a piece is broken by the shovel. (or perhaps by thermal shock caused by the extreme variations in heat) And some pieces get lost in the ash only to be found much later after one or 5 firings, if ever. But the end result is worth it, at least to us.

I may go back to my experiments with raku. I have an electric kiln which I'll use for PMC once I get it hooked up again, and I could probably do some raku in it. I doubt, however, that either Kim or I will ever give up pit firing completely in favor of raku. There's just something too magical about the process. It is like alchemy and the primitive experience of fire and smoke is now in our blood.
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24 May 2005

Glazed and confused

[note: I tried to post this last night but something wierd happened... I'm trying it again this morning. A.]

I spent the day, or a significant part of it, in the studio glazing. To be completely honest, glazing is probably my least favorite part of the ceramic process. That fact probably explains why I have hundreds of bisque-fired beads that will probably never be glazed. I've come up with what I believe may be a clever alternative to glazing. I am going to sell my surplus bisque beads to PMC artists who can apply silver clay over them for interesting effects. Just one more thing to take to the bead shows.

Speaking of which, the contracts for the three fall shows are in the mail. With any luck at all this means that in about 3 weeks I'll be getting all of the information from the show organizers and be able to start some serious planning.

Kim is doing a pit firing tomorrow. I will be unloading the glaze kiln in the morning and packing up the contents to take to Kim for the firing. I have 8 single-fired goddesses to be pit fired, as well as quite a few of my new twistie beads. I also glazed 8 polkadot beads to be pit fired for a bracelet that i want to make.

Tomorrow night I need to fire another bisque kiln so that Thursday I can glaze my half moon vessels and glaze fire them on Thursday night. If all goes according to plan, Kim will bring the pit fired pieces on Friday and we'll pack everything and get it ready to ship to Melanie for B&B. Once the pieces are inventoried, packed and in the mail, things around here will relax a little. But not much, especially not if we're going to do these bead shows.

23 May 2005

What are they for?

I spent a couple hours in the studio this evening during which I finished the half moon vessels that I'd started late last week and made several goddess pendants. While working, I was thinking about web page stuff. I want to write a Frequently Asked Questions list for the website which touches on the types of questions that people generally have about my work. Several of the answers to those questions have the potential to grow into actual articles.

One of the first questions that I get when people see my vessels, for example, is "What are they for?" or "What's in them?" The answers that I give are often dependant upon my state of mind and whether or not the person asking seems like someone who will appreciate my sense of humor. The honest answer to the second question, especially if I happen to be wearing the piece, is usually "Nothing." But the answers that I give are more typically, "Anything that will fit" or "Fragrance or Essential oils"

When I started making pendant vessels, I was interested in small versions of common vessel forms. The vessels were really more symbolic than functional. After making tiny vessels for a period of time, I became more aware of their potential for use in aromatherapy. Now, after years of making them, I'm becoming more interested in artisan fragrances.

Almost two years ago, after the abrupt, heartbreaking end of my first pregnancy, I found myself unable to make vessels for some time. I still struggle some with the idea of my self as vessel. For several months, every time that I sat down to work on vessels, I seemed to confront failure. My own failure to carry new life into the world and the failure of my hands to shape the familiar forms which were a significant portion of my body of work. I began to think of vessels as containers of emptiness. I felt as though I was shaping clay around a void, and as though the void defined both the object and the maker.

In an effort to overcome that inherent emptiness, I began inscribing words on the soft slabs which I used to make some of my vessels. The words, inscribed on the inside of the vessel, would not be visible and, yet, the vessel would not be empty. It would contain a word, a thought, a wish... About the same time, I became pregnant a second time. My second pregnancy, although sometimes difficult and often limiting, ended happily with the birth of my daughter Mica.

Over the last month, I've made quite a few vessels. It wasn't until tonight that I found myself thinking about the vessels that I'd made while working through my miscarriage. I have no way of knowing which vessels have my hopes inscribed on their inner walls, but perhaps they've entered the lives of people who need them as much as I did when I wrote the words on the clay.

I think maybe it is time for me to make some more vessels with wishes written in their walls.

22 May 2005

What a doll

For years now, I've been fascinated by art dolls. Until recently, that fascination has been something which I've suppressed. I don't really sew, and somehow I felt like I would need to make the entire doll out of clay if I were going to use my chosen medium. Several months ago I decided to try my hand at making faces for beaded art dolls. My motivation, i'm afraid, was purely commercial. A local arts venue was having beaded sprit doll workshops and the owner mentioned, in passing, that she hadn't been able to find a lot of faces that she liked... Before I knew it, I was obsessed.

After making my first batch of faces, but before firing them, I decided to join a beaded art doll list on yahoo. Many of the members of the list expressed the same frustration with trying to find faces for their dolls. I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I was onto something. At about the same time, I began work on my very first beaded doll.

Yesterday i went to a meeting of the Columbus, OH Guilded Lillies art doll guild. All-in-all, I had a good time. I learned quite a bit, got to see what quite a few different people were working on and really met some great people. There were some akward moments. Since Mica is still nursing, I have to bring her with me wherever I go. It turns out that these meetings generally prohibit attendance with children and there were at least a couple people who were frustrated by her presence... I was not aware of the prohibition or I would not have attended.

I came home with some ideas for dolls that I want to work on. I'm currently thinking of making a felt body with some needle felted detailing in addition to the beading, and twistie beads for arms and legs. I'm not sure when I'll get them done, but I'm looking forward to at least getting some sketches worked out.

Today was spent mostly in bed with a sinus headache. The weather has been changing and that always seems to give me trouble. I'm hoping to get back into the studio tomorrow evening.

20 May 2005

I got the camera a little too close to the kiln so the focus is really bad but this will at least give a glimpse of what I saw when i opened the lid to the kiln Posted by Hello

This image shows the second layer of shell vessels. The interior dimensions of the kiln are 6 inches by 6 inches by 6 1/2 inches high. It's hard to tell from the photo but the shells are suspended from the thick metal support rods with thin wires threaded through the stringing holes. I generally try to leave at least 1/4 inch between the pieces to prevent them from fusing together during the firing. All in all, I'm pleased with the results. There are several combinations that didn't work out exactly to my taste but nothing that I would call an absolute failure. Posted by Hello

19 May 2005

The waiting is the hardest part...

The kiln shut off about an hour ago. It won't be cool enough to open until morning. The shells are all glazed with layered glazes. Most of the combinations are from Opulence in their reduction look high-fire cone 6 glazes. I also threw in a blue from Georgie's that I've never really liked by itself. (It looks a little too much like blue spray paint.)

It's a pretty big risk firing all of the shell vessels with glazes that I don't know very well, but not knowing what I'll see when I open the lid is part of what makes glaze firings so much like Christmas. When I bought the Opulence glazes at NCECA last year, they had a display of test tiles on their table showing how the glazes looked layered with each other. There were no combinations that I strongly disliked, so I can't really say that I'm worried about the results. Likewise, the Georgie's glaze is very stable and I've fired it in combination with one of the Opulence glazes in the past with good results.

We'll see in the morning whether I should have stuck more with known glazes. The sad part is, if I really like one of the combinations, I'm not going to have any way of knowing without further experimentation how to repeat my results. I guess that it's a good thing that I have so many bisqued beads hanging around the studio. I can test combinations on beads if there's something that I really want to duplicate.

Somehow I managed to fit all 25 shell vessels into the kiln for the glaze firing. To keep the vessels from sticking to anything, they must be suspended during the glaze firing. I'll take another picture in the morning before I unload the kiln. Posted by Hello

18 May 2005

Show and tell

Well, the contracts are completed and ready to go for the three bead shows that Kim and I have selected. Tomorrow I'll drop the contracts, checks and a letter in the mail and will anxiously await word as to whether or not we've been accepted to the shows. To be honest, I'm not really that nervous about getting in. Kim and I both do good work and we're not trying to get into a market that is completely flooded with similar work.

Kim is anxious to try her hand at one of the bigger shows and is currently in posession of an application for the Lapidary Journal BeadFest in Atlanta in August. I've told her that if she decides to go for it and gets in, I'll be happy to make the trip with her and help to man the booth. It is a show that I might have been interested in trying for once I had a little show experience under my belt but the idea of venturing into that kind of show with no show experience is more than a little terrifying.

The idea of the Atlanta BeadFest is even more intimidating because BeadFest actually occurs before the three shows that we're applying to together. We'll have absolutely no frame of reference for the show.

Right now I'm trying to just focus on getting the applications done for the shows that we're doing this fall and to make the pieces that I'm sending to Melanie for Bead and Button. Speaking of which, the shell vessels and twistie beads are loaded in the kiln to be bisque fired and I have 13 half-moon vessels drying out in the studio.

Hopefully Miss Mica will be in good spirits tomorrow and I'll be able to get some studio time in during the day. If nothing else, I should try to get some glazing done tomorrow so that I can glaze fire the shell vessels. I'm guessing that I'll need to do at least 2 cone 6 firings to get them glazed and I really wanted to get the pieces for the Bead and Button show in the mail no later than the end of next week.
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17 May 2005

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

I didn't post anything yesterday because it was a baby day. Mica and I spent the day with her grandparents and that was the sum total of our accomplishments.

Today was more of the same. When we got home, after dinner, Mica spent some quality time with her daddy while I went to the studio for an hour or so to work and return phone calls. I cleaned the holes on the last of my shell vessels, so they're all ready to be loaded into the kiln and fired. I also started a few of my half-moon vessels. The half-moons are the next vessels which I need to get made for Bead and Button.

Tomorrow I'm getting together with Kim to fill out applications for bead shows and to collect the money so that I can send checks. I'm a little nervous about this. This is the first year that we'll be doing any shows and we're hoping to get into three of them. We'll see what happens.

15 May 2005

Down time

I took the weekend off, well sort of. I set up at an event yesterday called a "Swap and Sale" which was touted as a "Garage sale for artists". Turnout was disappointing and there were only a hand-full of vendors. Needless to say, I lost money on the event.

To make a bad situation worse, I followed it up with a shopping spree. Who knew that there was a Goodwill outlet in the greater Dayton area? Who even knew that there was such a thing as a "Goodwill Outlet".

I bought a bunch of old sheet music which I will probably use in altered books and other creative outlets. I also bought a couple broken kitchen tools which will work beautifully as texture tools in the studio. Whenever I look at something I ask myself, "how could I use this with clay?" With practice, you begin to see everything as a clay tool. Which is not always a good thing, as evidenced by the state of my studio.

It's been a cold and rainy weekend, and the week ahead doesn't look much better. The weather isn't cooperating much with my plans to take the baby out to the screen porch/summer studio so that I can work. I'll squeeze it in as time permits but i'd love to get back to the lovely, summery weather we had before.

13 May 2005

Something else to consider

As I've worked on my website I've tried to anticipate the types of information which I should add to the site. I've drafted a new wholesale policy which I intend to make very visible on the page. I've figured out a new discount structure so that collectors of my work or people who wish to purchase larger quantities will not feel that they are being punished because they don't have a tax id number. I'm trying to put together a business FAQ which will anticipate many of the questions which potential customers might have. It makes sense to do this as it **should** lighten the demands on my limited email time.

So, as I'm looking at this, trying to anticipate these questions, a related topic came up on a marketing list that I'm on. Specifically the question was, how long would be considered a reasonable period to wait for a response to an email.

Of late, because of my parenting responsiblities and the limited time available to me for either studio or computer persuits, I am not as quick to respond to messages as I was in the past. It is not uncommon for days on end to pass during which I am unable to do more than glance at email. As a result of the discussion on the list, I'm trying to answer for myself "How long is too long to keep someone waiting?"

My current plan is to find an answer to this question that I can live with and then to design a "Contact" page on MysticSpiral which will basically outline how to contact me and what to expect in terms of response time. Hopefully, this approach will allow me to strike a balance between being responsive and living at my computer.
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12 May 2005

Yesterday's accomplishments

None! Well, almost none. I picked up three of the wooden crates that I want to use for displays at the bead shows. I've dropped them off at my parents house where I'm hoping to use their power washer to clean 50 or more years worth of grime off of them.

The crates were used at National Cash Register for parts storage. I purchased them from a surplus store. It's amazing how grungy wooden crates get after years spent collecting grease and dirt in a factory setting.

Beyond that, however, I got nothing done. I shouldn't have bothered packing up the laptop. I never even took it out of the case. I'm probably better off to try to draft stuff in one of the notebooks that I carry around with me and worry about getting it into the computer once I'm home.

Well, I need to get ready for a doctor's appointment. I woke up this morning with my throat swollen. I couldn't swallow, couldn't eat or drink, and it hurt to breathe. I've forced some hot tea down and some Ibuprofen but I'm really glad that the doctor's office could get me in today. I'm also really grateful that I have a spouse whose job provides us with health insurance. I cannot emphasize enough the value of David Hendley's advice in Clay Times... "Marry Well!"
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11 May 2005

The plan for today

I have errands to run today that have nothing to do with the studio and will keep me out of the mud all day. Since I need to finish the re-vamp on MysticSpiral, I'm taking my notebook and computer with me and I'll try to work on stuff as time (or miss baby) permits. I'm way behind on email at the moment. If I accomplish nothing else, I need to respond to a few email messages.

To be honest, I'd rather be playing in the mud.

10 May 2005

Progress report

I managed to get a few hours of productive time in the studio today. My goal today was to make shell vessels for the Bead and Button show next month. I actually got 11 of them made today for a total of 25 of them since Friday. Once they've had a day or two to dry (you have to love the humidity in Ohio) I can bisque fire them and glaze them. This series has textured surfaces but are similar to the examples shown below.

Next on the pottery agenda, fobs for keychains and goddesses.

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Getting Started

I kept an online diary for a while but I wanted to do something specifically for the studio and my creative life... something public that I could link to from my website. Since I'm in the process of a major site re-vamp, this is the perfect time to get started.