Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We Interrupt This Blog... bring you a special bulletin:

I, Lori Keenan Watts, potter, teacher, wife, sister, daughter and Mother of Cats, denounce Nazis, Nazism, and all forms of racism and white supremacy. At this moment in our history, I feel it's important for all of us, as citizens, using any platform we have, to be clear about this. There is only one side of decency, and it is the one that stands against bigotry.

My grandfather was a gentle person. (He was known in his hometown as the guy whose chickens died of old age.) Nevertheless when his country called, he went. He went to Germany to fight the Nazis, and he was awarded the Purple Heart when he was shot.

Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents didn't fight that war just to have that vicious ideology take hold here. We, as a people must reject it, and not just in our hearts: out loud, to our friends and family, and even on our blogs! I know it's awkward to talk about it, because politics or whatever, but this is too important to politely pretend it isn't happening and just go on about our business.

I have no doubt that the vast, vast majority of Americans feel the same way as I do: racism has no place here. But with the horrifying events in Charlottesville, it appears the Nazis and other hatebags have been emboldened.

I denounce them. Say it with me: I reject them and their hate-filled ideology as evil and UnAmerican.

Thanks for reading.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The August Messy Minute, and the new Pottery Puzzler!

The August edition of the Messy minute is out! You can check out a half-assed version* of it at this link, or, if you'd like to get The Messy Minute (the real one, without all the blank spaces!) in your inbox, shoot me an email with "Subscribe" in the subject line.

A favorite feature has returned: The Pottery Puzzler. See if you can get it right!

*EDIT: Here's a better one.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Garden Inspired Slip Inlay

This time of year inspiration is right outside my door. Blooming now: purple coneflowers! Their simple and easily recognizable shape makes them naturals for slip decoration.

To do this slip inlay, I first painted my image with food coloring.
Next I coated the interior of the bowl with water-based wax. Paraffin will work, as well, but it is a little more brittle, so harder to cut cleanly through.

Once the wax dried, I carved out the image with a sgraffito tool. Then I brushed on a white slip - underglaze will work for this as well. The slip sticks to the carved surface, but beads up on the waxed surface. I used a rib to remove the excess slip - one of the red one from Mudtools works great (I call them Gummy Gummy Bears, get it? ) because it's soft enough not to scrape any of the wax away.

The wax will burn away in the bisque firing (Thanks, Captain Obvious!) I'll choose a transparent or translucent glaze t show my slip work to best advantage. I'm leaning towards a shino, but I could see this in Amber Celadon...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

In the Groove

Hey all, it's been a bit since I posted! For a good reason, though - I'm not in a depressive funk this time, I am making pots, boatloads of them. I've got my groove back.

My groove likes to have an endpoint, a goal in sight, apparently; and in this case I am filling a kiln for the Portland Fine Craft Show. I'll be in booth #98, y'all, come see me! This is the third year of the show, and the first year it will be happening without its sister show, the WCSH Sidewalk Art Festival. Though I am sorry to see the art festival go - it was a long-standing tradition - no one knows how it will affect the craft show. More visitors? Fewer? I could see a case for either.

Anyway - I am making stuff as if it's going to be a blockbuster, because once I'm in the groove, I stay there for a while. Today was my last wetwork day, shooting for a bisque next weekend.

While I've been doing all this making, I am enjoying a newly discovered pleasure: podcasts. (Yes, yes, I am old and behind the curve. So sue me.) While I enjoy Invisibilia and Hidden Brain and the rest of NPR's brainiac lineup, my current fave is less intellectual: I've been queuing up the Savage Lovecast, columnist Dan Savage's call-in sex advice show. To be sure, it's not for everyone! But I find it entertaining, and not so intellectually demanding that I have to pay close attention. It serves my need to distract just enough of my brain so I don't overthink forms and decoration. What's your favorite podcast?

Anyway! I'm tuckered out after my long day in the studio 😊😊😊! Pots are drying now, and on Wednesday I'll start scraping & washing kiln shelves.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Berry Bowl, in Berry Season

It's raspberry season once again, and my unmowable slope is earning its keep. For a week or so in July, I get a full colander every day.

The little berry colander is one of mine; the scallop tray beneath it was made by my friend Joanna Skolfield, of Blarney Stone Pottery.

For more about my Maine garden & a raspberry dessert soup recipe (I know - but it's good!) check out my other blog, Wicked Cozy.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

New Pots, Born on the 4th of July

Today is my favorite day! Not Independence Day - it is, and I like that too - but Unloading Day! As usual I am excited and a tiny bit worried about what I will find. I don't have any reason to believe things didn't go well; the firing itself was uneventful. Most of of the posts in the kiln are for orders, though - someone somewhere is waiting for these pots. The demons that torment potters seem to know that sort of thing, and plague us accordingly. I'm off to find out...

I'm back! Here's how it went:
First peek looks a little pale

That side's better!
Here's me unbricking the door:

So, good news/ bad news: The good news is, everything that I needed for my orders came out exactly as I hoped it would! The area in the kiln where they were loaded got the most soda. The bad news is that there were some dry/ cool areas, so some items will need to be refired. The further good news is, everything - literally everything - was either good or salvageable - no losses. 

If it doesn't sound like I'm dancing around and whooping for joy, well, I'm not. The pieces on order were good - THANK YOU KILN GODS - but of the other pieces, nothing really made me want to whoop for joy.

So which would you rather have: a kiln load of pretty-good, easily salable pots, or a load with some stinkers and some fabulous, whoop-out-loud pots?

I guess I know now which I would choose.

However! I did manage to complete the collection I need for my little side-project: I need 15 good cat dishes for a fundraiser I hope to run. Looks like I have 16 good ones!
Will keep you posted on this.

So, some good some bad, tralalala life goes on! It's Independence Day, so enjoy a video to celebrate the birthday of the USA!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

As I Always Say...

This is something I tell students all the time: round is overrated. Some of the most beautiful pots in the world are asymmetrical; if ya like em perfectly round, they've got plenty of those all Walmart.

Skill comes, with time and practice. In the meantime it's important to enjoy and appreciate the wonky, spontaneous qualities of your early pieces. Once you can make them round every time, you'll strive to get back dome of the wonk!

Get the shirt here.


It's sort of a running joke in my family - my Dad and his tomato plants. There are reels and reels of home movie footage of beautiful green growing fruit. He was so proud of his garden.

So, not for nothin', I grew up to be a gardener, and I sort of specialize in tomatoes. And this year I have blossoms already on some of my plants! In the middle of June.

Dad would be proud.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Garden Inspired

I loooove sliptrailing. Usually my sliptriailng is just dots or other patterns, but occasionally I get inspired to do some representational marks. Even the abstract marks are botanically inspired, and in June there is a lot of botanical inspiration to be had in my garden.

Bleeding hearts have tugged on my mind for some time. The simple repetitive shapes, the multiplicity, the distinctive foliage - they seem made for slip decoration. It's harder than it looks, though, and my first several tries were either just bad - blotchy, unrecognizable - or just didn't really capture the charm of the plants. Theses are a bit better, but I'll keep working on it.

The green you can see peeking out from beneath the slip is food coloring - I find it helpful to loosely paint out my marks. It saves me wasting slip by trailing, wiping off, trailing, wiping off, and so on.

These blossoms are loosely inspired by creeping phlox.

These are more generic but I think I could minimally adapt them to reference poppies. The difficulty with slip trailing is with depth - trying to represent some blooms or petals behind others can sometimes turn into just a blobby mess! On these last two the food coloring serves to mark out the spacing for the scalloped design - this has greatly improved my placement! It has he advantage over pencil or needle tool in that the lines are clearly visible but do not have to be removed later - the food coloring just burns away. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Yeah, That Was Me

...firing a raku on the hottest night of the year.
At least I hope it will turn out that was the hottest night! I kind of feel cheated: May and June are two of the three nicest months in Maine - the third being September - with temperate days and cool nights. This year, and last year, we had 45° and rain right up until we were catapulted into the 90s. Temps in the 90s are not supposed to happen in Maine! Or at least not for more than a few days each summer, in late July or early August. It plays hob - HOB, I TELL YOU - with the gardening season. I'm hoping things will mellow out in the next few days.

Nevertheless, the raku must go on! Well - technically that's not true, I've cancelled raku for all kinds of reasons, often weather-related, once mostly because I was just not feeling it.

It was sweltering, but we got some amazing results. I had all beginners! But they listened well and followed instructions, and we got some of the nicest copper lustre results I've seen in a while. The students have since taken theirs home, but mine are still at Portland Pottery, for people to check out. .

If you are thinking about doing a raku firing or taking a workshop, let me share a couple of things with you to make it a better experience:
The first couple are safety related:

  1. Wear cotton clothing! It's hard for cotton to catch fire. Not impossible, but a stray ember is unlikely to light it. Polyester, nylon, rayon? All bad choices.
  2. Wear closed-toed shoes! You may be called upon to stomp out flames. You want to be able to answer the call without harming your tootsies.
  3. If your hair reaches your shoulders, tie it back.
  4. If you are manning a post-firing reduction chamber, once the chamber is closed, don't open it for any reason for at least about 6-10 minutes. If you deprive the flame brielfy of oxygen and then suddenly allow an influx, you can get what's called a backdraft, which sounds kind of tame but is in fact a ball of flame, with you in the middle of it. You won't like it. 
These next apply more to workshop situations than private firings. In a small, one-person kiln, some things are easier than in the large kiln, so these suggestions don't apply in those cases. If you are firing your own kiln, handlling your own tongs, put in any size pieces you want, for example! These are more like workshop etiquette:

  1. Don't bring teeny tiny things. No beads, no buttons, no earrings. I once had a workshop participant bring like 30 1-inch pots. It wasn't her fault, nobody told her! But it was a misery getting those out of the kiln before they cooled too much too get any nice metallic colors, without getting burned. (Mostly my hands. The fireman's jacket protects the rest of me, but the gloves can only do so much as I reach repeatedly into the glowing kiln. So, yeah. Don't do that. 
  2. Don't bring anything you wouldn't want to lift with three foot tongs and drop into a pile of wood chips right next to other clay pieces. No huge things, nothing delicate or with long fragile appendages. Raku is hard on pieces, both the thermal shock & just the thumping around that's going to happen putting them in the reduction chambers and into the water. 
  3. Make sure you have used a claybody that is appropriate for raku. There's a pretty broad range of bodies that will work, and some that aren't great but will probably work for some pieces. The best ones are groggy stoneware, or porcelain, or bodies made for raku. 
  4. As noted above, raku is a risky process for the ware. Sometimes stuff breaks. Don't do it if losing a piece is going to break your heart. 
I'll post some photos of the ware and a fabulous raku glaze recipe here next week.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Etsy Wholesale Update

Received this ^^ in my inbox today!  I've started my linesheet already. As of this second it's only got one item on it but check it out if you like. 

Am I the eternal optimist? Or do I never learn? Or are those different ways of saying the same thing? Either way, I am quite excited about this, in spite of my previous experiences with Etsy. If it goes well, if it goes poorly, you'll read it all here.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Here We Go Again: Etsy Wholesale

Remember my love/hate relationship with Etsy? I love to shop there - mostly for supplies* - and hatehatehate to sell there. Or rather I'd love selling there, if I ever actually sold anything! (I technically still have a store - two in fact, one for pottery and one for soap, but there's nothing in either of them.) Two things made me walk away from Etsy last time:

  1. I realized I was spending as much time promoting as I do making stuff, chasing after the Etsy dream. 
  2. I noticed when people buy things from Etsy, that's how they describe it: "I got it on Etsy." The seller's name is lost to the mists of history. So all that promoting? Benefits Etsy more than the seller.I decided if I was going to promote, I might as well be promoting me.
The fees were adding up, too, as I had to keep listing and re-listing to keep my items visible a search. 

Ugh, I am having flashbacks. I swore off Etsy more than once but now? Now there's Etsy wholesale. The thing is, I've been wishing there was a high profile online means to reach wholesale buyers - kind of an ACC Baltimore, online. Wholesale show are crazy expensive, and I am small enough as a business that I couldn't fill the 50K worth of orders that would make it worthwhile. The only other way to find accounts is to email & follow up with in-person visits - suuuuper inefficient. 

Etsy Wholesale would allow me to expand my handful of wholesale accounts, to maybe two handfuls. I wouldn't need to expand to "a truckload" just to make a show worthwhile. 

No listing fees, that's big. It doesn't make sense, to me, to be asked to pay before I sell anything! You do have to apply - I have started that process already - and who knows? Maybe I'll write all this angst and get declined anyway. I'm not entirely sure what they criteria are, and I am reading comments from lots of established Etsy sellers that their application was declined, so I guess that's good, right? It means they have standards, you won't have paper-clip-on-twine necklaces, unless they are really amazing paper-clip-on-twine necklaces. 

As I poke around further, I've discovered that Etsy Wholesale has existed since 2014. How did I not know this? I just found out recently because I saw a Facebook ad. It the intervening time, have you had an Etsy Wholesale shop? Is there another online wholesale venue that I've missed? What have your experiences been? Would love some input on this. 

*Now I guess there's Etsy Studio for supplies. When did that happen? 
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