Fundraisers and donations…

Being asked to donate bowls for a local soup bowl dinner was the motivation I had to try my hand at becoming a potter full time. That challenge tested my skills to see if I would be able to mass produce an item with consistency and to meet a deadline. It was fun. I donated 25 bowls. Each one decorated similarly with frogs and a colorant swirl to give the illusion of water. I understand they were a hit and were some of the first bowls to go.

Now, with the economy still having effects on all of us, the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter is having an additional fundraiser to try and help local folks make ends meet. I was again asked to donate an item. This item could be a single item and would be used in a Bingo style fundraiser. I have wanted to do some frog vases so this was the opportunity to do several and let them have first pick at the lot and  the rest could travel to Blandy Farm with me on Mother’s Day.

Here are the four vases that I made for the shelter… they chose the one with the froggies holding hands and I have to say, I think it will be a popular item but more importantly, I hope they are able to raise funds to help folks that are trying to make ends meet.

A Week of Handmade Work…

sculptural frog on the rim

Last friday I threw 10 mugs and 5 bowls. 15 pieces. Those pieces took most of that day to make. Over the next 7 days, those 15 pieces were brought to a finished level but only up to a point.

Pottery is a slow process. It is something that I am learning that I need to accept the slowness of the process and be patient. I am getting there but, after being in the corporate world for so long where presses were running at $1000 an hour and you were upstream of those presses, preparing the work so as to not have a mistake stop the presses causing that price to go up for the company or the customer. I have had to slow myself down and have a different set of expectations for how quickly things get made. I don’t have a customer waiting, at least not one that I can see just yet, I also want the work to be the best quality that I can make. There is no point in hurrying if the quality suffers. That is also something that was important in the corporate world. If the press had to wait, it was better to get the work done in the best quality as possible to avoid an additional stoppage or material waste.

My last post was of the trimming process of those items. I wanted to try and show that there are many steps that go into a handmade item. After the trimming was done, the handles were made and with each step the items are packed into a plastic box and wrapped with plastic to avoid them drying out before the next step can be completed. Another reason for the slow drying is to avoid attached pieces from separating from the piece. The moisture content of the handle and the cylinder that it is attached to will even out and putting them into a damp box or under plastic allows the moisture content in the entire piece to become consistent.

The decoration that I have chosen to add to my work is a time consuming process in that I add a white clay body slip over the brown clay and then either draw through that slip or add a stencil that holds the white clay back from the brown clay. Then some color is added and clean up of areas where the clay or color may have bled into an area where I don’t want it. Then I am adding the sculptural frogs and give each one a personality so that each piece is unique.

Handmade items are special. What makes them special is that they aren’t made with a machine, except for the wheel, and are given the attention that sets it apart from a mass produced item. That said, I’m not sure I will ever achieve the production potter status. I can see that I will use the production mindset but I don’t ever see having a set “line of work” and have items that I make for a while and then when I get bored with the pieces that I am making, I will create a new item to make for a while.

So these 15 pieces will then get fired when they reach a dry state. The firing will take about 8-10 hours, then an additional 12 hours to cool. Then each piece will be glazed and fired again, an additional 8-10 hours with the 12 hours to cool. Of those 15 pieces, there will be pieces that I will discard because they won’t be the quality that I want to be representative of my work. Some of those little “blips” will stay in because that is part of the “handmade quality” that I want to achieve.

Building a mug….

A lot goes into making a mug. You might think that the mug you just bought at Walmart or Target for five bucks is just a cheap vessel for your morning coffee or tea but a handmade mug has a lot of steps to get you to that morning drink.

Herb has been practicing his lighting and recently decided to photograph some of the steps of my recent mugs. Below is the gallery of those photos.

A mug starts out as a simple cylinder thrown on the wheel with these steps adding to that process:

  • the foot of the cylinder is trimmed to finish the bottom of the mug. I have been adding an additional step to that process and carving a “petal” shape into the foot ring.  I divide the ring into six equal sections and carve a “V” into those divisions. The I smooth the petals to form a nice sculptural foot on the cylinder.
  • Next a handle is made for the cylinder. This is a process called “pulling a handle” where a lump of clay is stretched with water to create a smooth slender handle shape. These are left to dry out some so that they can be attached to the cylinder in a nice curve adding to the curve of the side of the cylinder that has been trimmed.
  • Decoration is then added to the sides of the mug. I am doing this batch with a white slip over the brown clay body but at this point you can carve the cylinder, add an underglaze painted on the side or leave it plain and plan to add a pretty glaze after the mug is bisque fired
  • And of course, these mugs are getting a frog attachment. You’ll just have to wait and see the final product but Herb has done an awesome job of capturing the trimming and carving process.