Thursday, March 25, 2021

New Works in Progress

Starting sgraffito work on a bowl

In my glorious, newly cleaned, outdoor studio, I've been puttering along at a relatively leisurely pace, in part due to the fluctuating temperatures, in part due to a shoulder injury gotten during Ninja Training.

OK, that last part may have been a stretch. But I've got an injury which, for once, will not be requiring surgery, and I've been instructed by my physical therapist not to do anything to make it angry. Fortunately, it's on my right side, and hasn't inhibited my throwing, but schlepping 25-pound bags of clay to the table so I can wedge it can be a bit of a pain. Oh, to be a famous potter and have a studio assistant!

But such is life! I keep plugging along, anyway.

There are a couple of techniques I've wanted to either try for the first time, or to continue to develop.

Sgraffito is one of them. I've done it before, but I plan to expand the technique to include color inlay, too. I'm pretty excited about it, to be honest, because it has the potential to shift my art into a direction which has more depth on the surfaces of my ceramics.

I'm having fun using the "regular" sgraffito technique, too. I think once my skeleton creations come out of the final firing, the color of the clay will give the bones an antique look.


Another technique I'm playing with is that of burnishing.

Burnishing this here pot with a little water and a smooth stone. 

I'm practicing this technique for a couple of reasons. First, I've always wanted to try my own pit firing. Burnishing the pot first makes it look as if it was glazed, first, even though it isn't. Second, I've been putting off making my beloved Sam's urn, in part because it's an emotional thing, in part because I haven't decided what shape would be best. I think he deserves to be in a nicer resting place than a cardboard box, no matter how pretty it looks. I'm leaning towards a round, lidded piece, but thrown all in a single form. Later, when the clay hardens enough, the lid gets cut out.

I've continued stamping, too!

I made the vase, above, without much thought of decoration. But then it started telling me it wanted a few daisies and some fluting! Who am I to say no? I'll probably make some more of these along the same lines.

I made this bowl, also with the intention of leaving plain, but then the stamping bug grabbed me again and I had to test out this stamp I made!

I debated doing some inlay on it, but decided against it. I'm looking forward to seeing a glaze on it which breaks nicely in the indentations.

Lastly, I've been playing with watercolor and copic markers, again, just for practice, plus I continue to make jewelry on afternoons when it's too cold to work on my pottery.

Sorry about the cruddy picture quality, but you get the idea!

Stay tuned for more artistic adventures!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

GNU Sir Terry Pratchett - And Another Friend

This post has links to Amazon and qualifying purchases could see me rolling in pennies. I mean, earn me a commission.

I think one of the things I love most about FB is that you can find your specific flavor of fandom fairly easily. And when you do, you can extend that mythical world into this one, and vice versa. People on the fan page just "get" the references, and you can have an inside joke run for miles! 

One of my very favorite authors, Terry Pratchett, has a well-deserved few fan pages on Facebook. I ran across both the Ankh-Morpork Times and the Discworld memes page a while back, to my delight. I've been a fan of his Discworld novels for probably thirty (*gasp!* thirty?!) years, now, and have run across very few people in person, in the roundworld, who know the books or the author, so finding the fan pages was like coming home.
A rendering of The Mended Drum, Ankh-Morpork's
most notorious watering hole.

Pratchett, you may remember, was a friend of and often a co-writer with Neil Gaiman (most recently of Good Omens fame). He had a strong grasp of the human condition, politics, and irony, and crafted them all into a shape of humor and love that the rest of us could easily relate to. His worlds and his characters are addicting.

The anniversary of Terry Pratchett's passing (by the Embuggerance, as he called it, of Alzheimer's) was a few days ago. The fandom on Facebook remembered him with a GNU on the clacks, which was spawned in the Discworld and lives on in our internet. I also ran across an excerpt from Pratchett's book, Going Postal (the screen adaptation can be purchased on Blu-Ray or streamed on Amazon and is well worth the money, if you love British humor), which I share below. 

28 April 1948 - 12 March 2015

She was known as Princess to the men on Tower 181, although she was really Alice. She was thirteen, could run a line for hours on end without needing help, and later on would have an interesting career which . . . but anyway, she remembered this one conversation, on this day, because it was strange. Not all the signals were messages. Some were instructions to towers. Some, as you operated your levers to follow the distant signal, made things happen in your own tower. Princess knew all about this. A lot of what travelled on the Grand Trunk was called the Overhead. It was instructions to towers, reports, messages about messages, even chatter between operators, although this was strictly forbidden these days. It was all in code. It was very rare you got Plain in the Overhead. But now . . .

‘There it goes again,’ she said. ‘It must be wrong. It’s got no origin code and no address. It’s Overhead, but it’s in Plain.’

On the other side of the tower, sitting in a seat facing the opposite direction because he was operating the up-line, was Roger, who was seventeen and already working for his tower-master certificate.

His hand didn’t stop moving as he said: ‘What did it say?’

‘There was GNU, and I know that’s a code, and then just a name. It was John Dearheart. Was it a—’

‘You sent it on?’ said Grandad. Grandad had been hunched in the corner, repairing a shutter box in this cramped shed halfway up the tower. Grandad was the tower-master and had been everywhere and knew everything. Everyone called him Grandad. He was twenty-six. He was always doing something in the tower when she was working the line, even though there was always a boy in the other chair. She didn’t work out why until later.

‘Yes, because it was a G code,’ said Princess.

‘Then you did right. Don’t worry about it.’

‘Yes, but I’ve sent that name before. Several times. Upline and downline. Just a name, no message or anything!’

She had a sense that something was wrong, but she went on: ‘I know a U at the end means it has to be turned round at the end of the line, and an N means Not Logged.’ This was showing off, but she’d spent hours reading the cypher book. ‘So it’s just a name, going up and down all the time! Where’s the sense in that?’

Something was really wrong. Roger was still working his line, but he was staring ahead with a thunderous expression.

Then Grandad said: ‘Very clever, Princess. You’re dead right.’

‘Hah!’ said Roger.

‘I’m sorry if I did something wrong,’ said the girl meekly. ‘I just thought it was strange. Who’s John Dearheart?’

‘He . . . fell off a tower,’ said Grandad.

‘Hah!’ said Roger, working his shutters as if he suddenly hated them.

‘He’s dead?’ said Princess.

‘Well, some people say—’ Roger began.

‘Roger!’ snapped Grandad. It sounded like a warning.

‘I know about Sending Home,’ said Princess. ‘And I know the souls of dead linesmen stay on the Trunk.’

‘Who told you that?’ said Grandad. Princess was bright enough to know that someone would get into trouble if she was too specific. ‘Oh, I just heard it,’ she said airily.

‘Somewhere.’ ‘Someone was trying to scare you,’ said Grandad, looking at Roger’s reddening ears.

It hadn’t sounded scary to Princess. If you had to be dead, it seemed a lot better to spend your time flying between the towers than lying underground. But she was bright enough, too, to know when to drop a subject.

It was Grandad who spoke next, after a long pause broken only by the squeaking of the new shutter bars. When he did speak, it was as if something was on his mind. ‘We keep that name moving in the Overhead,’ he said, and it seemed to Princess that the wind in the shutter arrays above her blew more forlornly, and the everlasting clicking of the shutters grew more urgent. ‘He’d never have wanted to go home. He was a real linesman. His name is in the code, in the wind in the rigging and the shutters. Haven’t you ever heard the saying “A man’s not dead while his name is still spoken”?’


Another friend of mine passed away last week. He was ripe in age and experience, and his passing was expected, but even so, he'll be missed.

Out of respect for the privacy of those he left behind, I won't share his name here, but if you're a certain age, you probably know at least one or two of his works, whether you realize it or not. He was a family friend, an associate of my dad's and someone I knew for pretty much the entirety of my life. I will miss him and his dry humor.

I like to think his name will live on in the clacks. 

GNU, my friend. GNU.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Spring-ish Cleaning

So this is another one of those, "don't pull that loose thread!" posts.

You know, that thread that's actually chain-stitched? Yeah. That one.

Pottery is a messy endeavor. Clay gets everywhere, whether it's in the form of clay dust (which is extremely bad for your lungs), or in the form of slip, which is muddy clay. It's important to keep your work area clean when you're working in clay, just for the sake of your health, let alone keeping your tools in good shape.

There's also your "meez" to consider.

What's that? I may have mentioned this concept in a past post, but  "meez" refers to a chef's way of organizing his or her workspace before work commences. The proper term is "mise en place," or, "everything in its place." 

To quote the late, great Anthony Bourdain from his classic book, Kitchen Confidential:

“Mise-en-place is the religion of all good line cooks. Do not fuck with a line cook’s ‘meez’ — meaning his setup, his carefully arranged supplies of sea salt, rough-cracked pepper, softened butter, cooking oil, wine, backups, and so on. As a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system…"
Although some may feel that setting everything up ahead of time is a waste, I disagree. It's a major time-saver. I don't have to stop what I'm doing when I'm in the flow to look for one of my tools if I have them all laid out and clean. Clean, organized, and ready to go. That's my meez.

So, back to pulling on that thread.

I had thrown a few bowls last Saturday, and although I had uncovered them so they could dry before trimming when I took Grace out for her morning constitutional, they were still too wet to trim.

So while the bowls were drying and my laundry was going, I decided to do "a little tidying up."

The water was warm enough to wash my clay tools and bucket, so I gathered them up and as I was doing that, I thought I'd wipe down my wedging board. I put the bucket and tools near the hose and started wiping the board. And then I saw that the table cover and the benches were pretty dirty, so I thought maybe it was time to wipe them down, too. And I figured, well, as long as I'm at it, I might as well un-clamp my wedging board so I could thoroughly wash it, and then get the table covering hosed down, too, and then do the table and benches.

And then I thought, well, I need to sweep up the trimmings around my wheel from the last time I had a trimming session. And as I looked at them, I saw there were quite a few which had fallen behind my wheel, so I unplugged my wheel and rolled it away from the wall so I could sweep more easily.

And then I noticed quite a lot of clay shavings had been blown behind my dad's old wooden planter box by the gardener's blower, so I moved *it*, so I could sweep those up (plus the loose dog hair which blew under there, too). But to do that, I had to move all my throwing bats which were next to my wheel and leaning up against the planter box, as well as the ware boards I keep handy, too.

So I swept up as much as I could and pitched it into the bin, and saw that it *really* was time to wash down my wheel thoroughly, including under the wheel head. And it was time to wipe down the legs. And my throwing stool, too. And under the wheel. And the planter, wall and electrical boxes had clay splats which needed cleaning, too.

Then I pressure-washed the table. And the benches. And my wedging board. And behind the planter and wheel, which I then put back so I could wash down the patio. And the planter and wall, too.

And then washed the bucket and tools, as well as my wheel's splash pan. And then set everything to dry and started to put everything back where it went (after hanging the table cover on the laundry line for a good shot with the pressure nozzle and a going over with a sponge, plus a final rinse.

My meez was in place, y'all!

And man! Did that night's hot bath feel good? Oh, yes!

And after I trimmed the bowls a day or so later, I did this:

There's so much satisfaction in being inspired to create, and then just sitting down to do it without having to fiddle around beforehand with cleaning!

Here's to more days of meez!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

News from the Nest, March 2021 Edition

This may look like an unassuming group of pottery, but no! It's much more!

Why? Because it was used on a set for a Bic lighter commercial featuring Martha Stewart!

It's funny how it happened, actually. My dad and former boss were out for their evening walk when they spied one of those Stanley Fatmax rolling tool boxes. I'd mentioned to my dad that my old one, which I used for my clay tools and for schlepping clay, had been wearing out, so when he got back to the house, he told me to go look and see if I could use it. Long story short, I picked it up and got rid of the old toolbox.

A few months later, I was walking Grace and the guy whose toolbox it had been happened to be puttering in his garage. I introduced myself and told him I had his old toolbox and that it was perfect for my clay tools! 

Which got us talking about ceramics, at which point he told me he and his wife had just bought a pottery wheel and were playing around with it. Of course I was delighted to hear it, and told him I'd drop my business card by and to give me a call if they wanted and help with throwing.

I went home and grabbed a business card, wrote a note with some ceramics resources for them to look up, and got a bunch of extra tools I had together for them. I stuck them in a bag, and dropped them in his mailbox the next time I drove by his house.

Well, a month or so later, he called and told me he was a set decorator and asked if I had any ceramics he might be able to rent from me for his next shoot? I had him and his wife come by the house to take a look, and he had me set aside the bunch you see in the picture, above!

Typical of the entertainment field, it doesn't seem that my work got any camera time, though I may be wrong. He did say that Martha was very pleased with his setup and praised the professionalism with which he had conducted his part of the shoot.

And when he returned my things to me with the rental fee, he gave me an idea of the type of work he'd be looking for in the future to use on his sets! 

Can I hear a wahoo?

Now that I have a good idea of what's necessary, I'll adapt a portion of my work to that end. I'll still be selling those pieces; I don't have space enough to store ceramics specifically for rental.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 11, 2021

A Painting of my Grace

I am so fortunate to have friends who are talented artists in so many fields! Award-winning musicians, world-renowned sculptors, jewelry makers and painters. 

This painting of my Grace was done by Richard Bennett, whose website, Richart Bennett, offers you the chance to commission a pet portrait of your critter. I can't recommend him enough!

Saturday, March 6, 2021

The Art of Darkness - The Night Gallery

I have been meaning to post this for days, now, but I've been too busy. And forgetful. What are you gonna do? This is life these days.

Anyhow, the guys over at Creature Features got a nifty project together on Kickstarter a while back. A book of the wondrous and weird! The paintings from Rod Serling's Night Gallery! Yaaaas!

And I got one. In a slick, leather slipcase. Because I deserve it! And? It's amazing! Beautifully curated, with explanations and history, galore! Anyone who is a Night Gallery aficionado will be proud to own one of these.

This is a big deal, folks! Having a compilation of both sculptures and paintings seen in the series in one book is the result of literally decades of sleuthing and hard work. One can imagine that just gathering the appropriate permissions and clearances from NBC Universal for use of the photos and all the artwork, would have been a daunting challenge.

Finding the paintings, themselves, was a major miracle, not least because we only have most of them because of some intrepid dumpster-diving on the Universal lot after the show ended and the studio was clearing out the sound stages to make room for whatever show was coming in.

It looks like there are still some books available at various tiers, so you might want to pop over to the Art of Darkness Kickstarter page to see if you can still run off with one of these beauties!