Friday, October 24, 2014

Lump of Clay to Finished Mug

A few months ago I put together a two-part demo video for my art club, Westchase Artists Society.  We have monthly meetings and often our members give us a peak into their process.  For my month, I prepared a video that takes you through the entire process of lump of clay to finished mug.  Because my process is protracted over a period of weeks, it was easiest to scale it down to an edited and fast-forwarded video.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

That Little Old Mug Maker... Me

The first part of my pottery career was void of mugs.  I was more of a sculptural potter.  I tried my hand at making mugs, but was never happy with the finished form and handle.  So I just never pursued the mug.  A few years ago, probably close to 7 years ago, a group of potters that I belonged to had a "mug swap."  I wanted to be part of the event so I made some mugs.  They weren't as bad as I had remembered, so I made a few more.  Then I kept thinking about mugs and what I liked to have in a mug and my journey began, in search of the perfect mug.  I really got into making mugs and coming up with new surface decorations.  All of the sudden, mugs were a major part of my Etsy shop.  And, a major part of what I make.  If I'm going out into the Garagio, I'm more than likely going out to throw mugs, or handle mugs.  A good part of my clay time is spent on mugs.  As I throw each mug I try to improve my throwing skills.  I'm working towards a nice light, well balanced mug, with good form, a nice handle, that's pleasing to the eye.  Mugs challenge me like no other form does.  I hope that the day will come when I can sit down and throw a series of mugs that will be the same size and shape.  But that goal doesn't upset me that much, because each mug is slightly different.  It shows that a human was there instead of a machine.

Mugs are one of the most personal items that we can make.  We put our lips on the lip of the mug, we often fondle the body of the mug while enjoying our first cup of coffee.  I strive to make handles that will keep you far enough away from the body of the mug so you don't burn your hand, and that are large enough that you can get three to four fingers in for a secure hold.  I try to make the surface glaze decoration fun, with hopes that my mug will become one of your favorites - take it to work, live with it.

I've recently come to the conclusion that a switch in clay was in order.  After working with low fire earthenware clay for years, I made a switch to a high fire stoneware clay.  One benefit in this change is that the mugs will be more durable for everyday use.  Finally, I'm making a huge commitment to my pursuit of the perfect mug.  The high fire stoneware, is less susceptible to chipping, able to handle the dishwasher and microwave and also less problems with crazing (fine cracks in the glaze) as time goes by.

This switch in clay wasn't as easy as buying new clay.  The higher temperatures mean that the glazes that I was using for the earthenware clay either will change under the higher temperatures or cannot be used at all.  A major investment in new glazes was in order, as well as an investment in clay.  I had to go through some glaze testing to see how colors changed.  I also had to search out glaze charts that showed colors at the higher temperatures of cone 5.  Trying to match my earthenware colors was a real challenge and for some colors, like greens, I'm still in search of the perfect green.

So, I'm doing a good thing with this change.  I think that offering a product that's more durable and more versatile for every day use, has a value.  My next hurdle will be to land on a fair price that takes into consideration the added costs of production.   Pricing... the final frontier.

One Year Later

Sixteen days shy of one year and I'm back.  Not that I've gone away, just that I've had a busy year with new family responsibilities that have made me keep an eye on my time.  I've made some revelations.

One year ago I was fairly upset with Etsy and what seemed to be a move away from their dedication to Handmade.  I jumped on the Zibbet bandwagon as I'm reminded from my previous post.  My first insight was received from a fellow potter who made me realize that Etsy really is the perfect home for me.  That I shouldn't take changes that they make personally.  The one thing that I thought would happen, hasn't happened.  I thought that the site would be inundated with mass-produced product and that it would eventually have a schlocky look.  Much to my pleasant surprise, I'm not getting that feel at all.  Even with the expanded guidelines for sellers, Etsy is still the best website to find unique items, made by creative people.  I thought that with the numerous changes that my sales would tank.  I'm happy to say that has not been the case.  People continue to find me and continue to order and make requests for custom items.  I think that the changes that Etsy has made to the website with the goal of making it better for handhelds has been great.  And, the changes that they've made to the mobile version for Sellers are awesome.  I can take photos with my iPhone, and set up a listing all from my phone.  I would have never dreamt of doing that a year ago.  Huge bonus as far as I'm concerned.

So you might be wondering, what's up with Zibbet.  Well, not much.  I prepaid for one year and loaded up the shop.  I have a hard time keeping track of more than one website, so Zibbet has fallen by the wayside.  I  know that time and effort has to be put into a new shop and I blame the fact that I didn't put the effort into Zibbet.  It's unfair of me to say that the site didn't work for me, because I didn't work for it.  My revelation here is that I'd like to spend more time creating than on the computer.  I renewed on Zibbet and will see how that goes, and will stay focused on Etsy.  To make my life easier, I'll only use Zibbet for my photo and jewelry line and see what happens.  So, let's see what happens.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Interesting Times

You might notice a couple of new things on my blog.  One is the pledge for handmade, the other is Zibbet.  You might be asking yourself what's a Zibbet?  Well Zibbet is a marketplace website, similar to but different from Etsy.  The biggest difference as of late, is Zibbet's definition of Handmade.  You see Etsy recently changed it's corporate definition of handmade to include the use of outside vendors to create items.  For designers this is great because all they have to do is think up a design idea, hook up with a manufacturer, or group of people, and they can still use the term Handmade to describe their item.  As long as it's their idea, it's Handmade.  Sounds like mass-produced to me, but I'm just a little old potter.

The change in basic philosophy over at Etsy has created quite a stir.  Many sellers are moving to sites that support the traditional definition of handmade.  One such site is Zibbet.  Because I was reading so many good things about Zibbet, I thought I'd give it a try.  As a seller one of the biggest issues is how easy it is to load new listings.  Well I have to say that Zibbet has made it pretty easy to get new listings up.  They offer an import feature where you can download a .csv file from Etsy and feed it into Zibbet.  The listings are held in Edit mode so that you can make any necessary changes, and then just hit the button to list.  You definitely want to go through your listings in Edit mode to make sure that you're not linking to old Etsy shops. 

So I now sit straddling the Etsy/Zibbet fence, with one foot in Etsy and a big toe in Zibbet, I have an ethical, philosophical quandary.  Do I stay on Etsy and turn my head to the changes, stay for the sales?  Or, do I take a stand?  Do I pack up my listings and file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences?  One thing happened today that's pushing me closer to leaving.  A customer from Etsy posted on Zibbet that she has left Etsy for Zibbet due to the shoddy way that Etsy is treating it's Sellers.  I never thought about this rift through the eyes of a customer.  Time will tell.  Christmas is coming faster than I care to admit.  I'm busy making and shouldn't be spending time worrying about this "stuff."  So, like Tara from Gone With The Wind, I'll think about it another day, twiddleedee.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Change of Pace

Because of a simple raise of the hand, I began a trek into a bit of a change of pace for me.  My days are usually filled with clay, either throwing on the potter's wheel, constructing and hand building, glazing and firing, packing and shipping and various other duties that are part of the potter's process.  I pretty much am an artist devoted to clay. 

I feel like I've been cheating this past week.  A couple of months ago at my local art club meeting (the Westchase Artists Society) I volunteered to be a featured artist at one of two Fifth Third community banks in Westchase.  It's a partnership that we have with the banks to provide them with artwork for their walls in exchange for exhibition space for our artists.  It's a wonderful thing that the bank is doing for our group.  Sometimes, because most of our 2-D artists have been featured, it's hard to get someone new to volunteer, so I raised my hand.  I figured that I could frame some of my photographs and that would be that. 

Not so fast!  That is never THAT with me.  I was at Michael's (it's dangerous to have one within a mile of where you live) and they had a huge sale on stretched canvases, multi-packs, gallery wrapped, oh my.  I stocked up.  When you see a two-pack of 16" x 20" canvases for $3.99 what do you do, I ask you?  As time passed and it got closer to installation date for the bank, I started to think, wouldn't it be fun to paint?  And then I started thinking about what to paint.  My first thought was abstracts would be fun.  Then my next thought was FISH!   The paintings magically appeared from my brushes and paints.  I made a series of fish that pay homage to my ceramic fish teapots and tabletop fish.  So far, all are based on real reef fish.  And I must say after installing the paintings at the bank, they transformed the bank into a colorful and fun aquarium.  It really is nice to see paintings on the walls versus stacked up in a studio.

Just in case you're not in the area or able to get over to the 5/3 Bank in Westchase on Linebaugh Avenue, here are a few photos of the "girls" that are on display.



Thursday, May 30, 2013

How long did it take you to make that?

People sometimes ask me how long it takes for me to make a fish teapot.  It's a hard question for me to answer because the making is broken up over a few weeks.  My workflow starts with the throwing of two components, a ring and a faceted base.  I usually let the pieces sit under plastic for a few days and then trim the ring and clean up the base and join the two.  If I'm lucky I can work on construction in the same day.  Once the teapot is constructed, I have to let it sit under plastic for about a week, then I take the plastic off and the teapot sits air drying until she's about as dry as it can be.  Then she gets bisque fired.  This is the first firing and runs at around 1900 + degrees F.  This firing gets the moisture out, hardens the clay and prepares it for the glazing.  After the kiln has cooled I get to work glazing.  This can be a process that spans across a few days.  Sometimes I paint on layers of clear glaze and sometimes I paint on layers of white matte glaze as an undercoat.  Then the teapot is fired again at a lower temperature for the glaze firing.  In this firing the coats of glaze melt and yield either shiney or satin coats of color.  After the teapot has finished up with the firings, I get to work on the accessories, such as earrings, beaded wires that get glued into pre-drilled holes. 

I put together a two-part demo video of me making a teapot from start to finish.  I was able to share the video with my Westchase Artists Society friends and so that the video could be watched in one evening I edited it down to 30 minutes.  Thanks to fast-forward the video is 30 minutes.  If I were on fast-forward the process would take about 30 minutes, but I'm definitely not on fast-forward so the process takes longer.  One day I'll clock myselt to get the definitive answer to the question. 

Part 1
Part 2

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ideas Happen

"How did you come up with that idea?"  The answers to this one question, for a creative person, can cover the spectrum.  Sometimes the birth of ideas can be funny stories, and for me, ideas roll from one to the next, like a  line of dominoes falling. 

 I've been working on some new designs and the evolution comes to me often by just staring at my current work. One example, some new mugs that I've been working on.

 I was sitting one day in the garagio and I had a bunch of teapot components (rings and faceted bases). I had extra bases and I didn't have the time to throw rings and I didn't want the bases to go to waste, so I started thinking about how I could use the bases. My thought was first about the basic shape and size, what would that work for? A few thoughts came to mind: bases for cake plates, sugar bowls & creamers, and finally mugs. then I started thinking about handles. Because the facets would make the attaching of my regular handles a challenge. How did I know this, you ask, well I tried one and it didn't work. So I created the handles by rolling a tapered coil attached in a normal fashion and had extra coil left at the bottom so instead of pinching it off I made a twirl. Then, the next domino to fall was the need to elevate the mug because now the twirl at the bottom of the handle was below the bottom of the mug, so I had to "lift" the mug. Answer to this dilemma: more twirls. So now we've got a theme going, facets and twirls.

I see the mug and I see whimsy, I'm seeing a jester, I'm seeing a party skirt, I'm seeing fabulous color, I'm seeing mugs that would coordinate with my teapots, I'm seeing that because the bases of the teapots are the same style as the mugs that we've got a party going on.  So from a day that started out with me just sitting and staring, came a new addition to my collection.  As the ideas for the mugs formulated, then came a flood of ideas for additional pieces that could spawn off of the faceted forms.

Lesson here is when you see someone staring, you could be watching the birth of a new idea.  You just never know!