Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New Postings on Etsy!

I'm slowly adding items to my Etsy Store... take a look!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Visuals and Taglines

The pictures of the pots below were taken when the pots were all almost bone dry. Bone dry is the stage following leather-hard. So, this is the raw clay. I carved them at leather hard (same stage at which you trim the pot), when the clay is stiff but holds enough moisture to be workable. Once a pot is bone dry it is ready for it's first firing, the bisque firing.
I'm getting into carving my pots. I'm very inspired by my Norwegian heritage and the Rosemaling painting often found on wood. I grew up with this style around our house and my Grandparent's house.
I love to get inspiration from a rich tradition like Rosemaling or from other techniques or artists. Copying can be good practice or a good challenge for learning but for an end result, for a finished personal piece, a copy is usually a stale impersonal imitation of the original. To be successful, graceful, beautiful, and true, a pot or any work of art has to come from within you. An artist ingests what inspires them and the influences around them then continue to work, letting those things come together and come out in their own form, their own style.
For that reason, I try to notice what I like about the Norwegian style and make it my own.

And below you can see me throwing a taller form with my little niece, whom I've mentioned previously, at another wheel. Its nice to have visitors every once and while!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Clay's memory

Throwing a pot tall and throwing a pot wide and open are two of the most exciting things to watch. They both require pretty dramatic changes in shape at a crucial moment. The way a potter goes about creating certain shapes makes all the difference between a success and a failure.

Clay has a "memory". This means that the particles that make up the clay respond to shaping according to previous actions. If a potter were to open the body of clay out wide from the get go (think of a wide platter shape), the particles that make up the clay walls would get weaker and weaker because they are being stretched and spread without any "memory" of a tight, compact, strong wall. That is why a potter will keep the walls pushed together as the pot is being thrown (ie. getting the walls nice and thin) until the very last move. That last move is critical. That is the moment where all of your hard work and repetition of pushing those particles together comes into play. In one move, the walls are expanded to the desired shape. Since the particles have the memory of being so compact, they can take the sudden spread and still hold up. If you mess with them or spread them too much after that, they loose the compact memory and spread until they fall apart. And you have a collapsed pot.

In these short videos you can see me throwing a tall cylinder, necessary for any tall vase regardless of eventual shape. In the second, I shape it a little bit. Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Oh the choices!

Life is grand when you are aware of the simple pleasures of every day! I stumble down the stairs to the kitchen each morning for my breakfast. I assemble the various parts of the meal, picking my cereal, getting out the soy milk, spoon, berries or raisins. I always take a simple pleasure in one particular choice: my dish. It is never a calculated choice, a potter choosing with a critical eye. No, it is much more simple, much more organic. I open the cupboard to an array of bowls from our own basement and from the studio of many other potters. Not one is alike. They all have different weights, decorations, shapes. They all have different personalities. One bowl can catch my eye and there is just something about it, that morning, that I can't get away from. The shape of the bowl, how small or wide the inside seems to me that morning, how open and hospitable or closed and cozy. I am rarely conscious of these details as I choose but as I look, as I touch, I just know that one bowl will suit and another simply will not.

Our mug cupboard is the same way. Friends who come over to our house know this well. The choices when it comes to beverages don't only consist of whether to have coffee or tea or what kind of tea but which mug will you choose? Its a very personal choice and I hate to have to choose for another person! It is always fun to see which mug a person chooses too. Something in the aesthetic of a particular mug drew that person in enough to choose it over another. Most often it is one that I haven't used for a while and their choice draws my attention to it once again.

Some may think that they just don't have that kind of time, the time it takes to choose one pot over another, its just another thing to think about ... but they are so mistaken! It is a very different kind of thought process, unrelated to the list of to do's in the morning. Imagine you are back in elementary school... if you had a good art teacher, art class was not just another class. It fed a different thought process, it was engaging, bit of a break from the norm. The simple pleasure of choosing your mug in the morning can be that little break all over again.

In "The Potter's Challenge", Bernard Leach discusses the value in hand made work vs. machine made and the inexplicable joy and element of humanity that makes all the difference between the two. Read here as he writes about making handles for a pitcher, making it over and over, perfecting the form:

"[The handle] must be comfortable to hold. It can covey beauty, and provide use and pleasure in combination. Now a young potter may say that as a machine can turn out repeated things item for item what is the purpose of trying to do the same thing by hand? The answer is that aside from the rhythm and method of work that develop within the potter, there are a surprising number of people who want to enjoy a pitcher when they use it, and they cannot get that kind of joy when the man who produced it did not really make it, did not have any joy in making it. How is the joy to get into factory-made work? We need that joy. It serves a starved heart both in the maker and the user. We need to find a way for all people in this world to get this extra bonus. There must be an element of choice and the play of imagination." (pg. 18-19)

And more:

"Even under favorable conditions the absence of overall personal responsibility at every stage of execution, combined with standardization of raw material, and absolute uniformity of exact repetition inherent in the process of mass reproduction, reduce the possibility of expression to a cool hard abstraction far removed from the warmth and character and spontaneity of direct hand-craftsmanship. [Here Leach makes allowances for a new sort of beauty to emerge from factory made things but goes on to say:] It is about time that we realized that the real contribution of the machine is mass-production of the basic necessities which a swelling population requires, not the make-believe application of false art. ... Factory-made pots are not produced by the whole man." (pg. 46-47)

So, raise your mugs, brimming with life and imagination and joy: Here's to personality, here's to simple pleasures, here's to the whole man!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'm asking for it...

Yesterday, my niece, a joyful little 3 year old, came over to play. She sat at the wheel and poked, prodded, and embraced the clay. She sat across from me at my second wheel. It was all very cute, etc. etc. As she finished a "pot" and wanted me to come cut if off, I said, "Ok, let me finish this pot... Just sit there and be patient and watch me throw." She looked at me and then quickly looked over her left and right shoulders, looked back at me with a questioning look, and said, "Where?" HA! I laughed and explained that the word "throw" in pottery is the word for turning the clay on the wheel into a pot.

She is growing up, just as I did, with an insiders view of the artist at work. Seeing an artist really working at their craft, day after day, with a seriousness far beyond what some people see as a "hobby" makes a huge difference in a child's understanding of art, both past and present, famous and local. Basic education used to include pretty serious drawing and painting lessons. Among many things, this would show the difficulty of the craft and stir a profound respect for those with the skills to make a living from it (or try!). Unfortunately, a lack of art education has been going on long enough that we have even gotten to the point where many adults have no concept of this. And unless an adult seeks out a deeper understanding of art, there will not be any reference point for their children... and pattern continues.

This subject fascinates me. It gets very messy because it is the result of an amalgamation of pretty heavy subjects: cultural changes in freedom of the individual, religions and philosophies, public sentiments toward art, educational policies, technology, mass production and outsourcing, and even the role of the family. As you study art history, you can see the gradual decline of public desire for and understanding of the modern artist. Some of the modern art and most of the post-modern or contemporary art is alienating in its very core. And it has done just that. Alienated the individual from art. Rather than engaging the viewer in any capacity, its purpose, as stated by the artists themselves and as spoken by the artwork itself, is to shock, to push away, to elude.

Well, we have gotten our results. The public has a natural desire for art and beauty but no where to turn. Educating kids in art and art history is seen as dispensable. Some are angered, confused, apathetic towards the art world and turn away or ignore. People's experience with art consists of elementary crafts, color by number, and second grade tracing mixed with a head knowledge of a few names... The Mona Lisa, The Waterlilies, Sunflowers, The David.

Art is a skill. It is a gift that some people have, just as a mathematical mind or a natural born leader. But just like those things, it requires massive amounts of time in practice, honing, developing and enhancing. I have all the patience in the world for adults and children alike who have no background or beginning of understanding about art. We have to rebuild the understanding. Let me encourage all of you: don't let it elude you. Don't be intimidated. Like what you like and learn more. Ask questions. Seek out beauty in your life whether it be in the color of your walls, the shape of your kitchen cabinet knobs, the mug for your coffee, or the painting above your mantle.

Monday, July 13, 2009

An idea

The Freer and Sackler Galleries in downtown DC often have events and lectures open to the public. A recent email from them included this wonderful picture. Wanted to share a great wall o pots!

I've also been doing some research on third world pottery and potteries in Asia for various reasons. I recently came across these photos of Potter Square in Baktapur. Incredible! All hand made.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A little bit of trial and a lot of error

Yesterday I tried my hand at a new technique. I've never thrown a huge pot, I've never learned how to! But a fellow potter posted some pics from a recent workshop so I thought I'd give it a shot. I threw a few bases a little small so that I could just try out the technique without the added pressure of keeping an enormous amount of clay under my thumb! After throwing a base, I let the pot "set up" a bit. My blow torch was a hair dryer. Then you add coils.

My coil adding went pretty well. I tried it a few different times but ultimately something failed each time. The first base wasn't tall enough to begin, I didn't let another get stiff enough (patience is key), I threw the coils of another out further than the base could handle and it split where the wall meets the wheel. I loved it. I'll give it another shot some time soon and let you know how it goes! Any potters' have advise?