Friday, December 13, 2013

All That is to Come...

These past few months have been quite busy.  In addition to my day job as mom to 2 teen age kids, 2 dogs, 4 cats, and wife to busy corporate executive, I have also been working on getting a new studio renovated and open. On top of that, my lovely and talented daughter had the lead in her school's musical, and my son began his journey into College! PHEW!  Just listing it all makes me tired :).

When my "pottery hobby" over ran the two studio buildings my husband had built on our property, we decided it was time to take the next step.  Instead of building a third, and probably fourth outbuilding on our property, we took the plunge and purchased an old house on Main Street here in Marshall, Virginia.

The property has a lot of visibility on our hometown thoroughfare, is zoned for Commercial uses, and was previously used as a dog grooming salon (this in particular felt like great karma to me!). The structure was built in 1890 and was constructed without the benefit of pressure treated wood, and with the added misfortune of being situated on top of some moderate shrink swell soils.  The end result....LOTS of rot.

We have had to gut most of the floors, replace most of the sills, band-boards, and of course floor joists and floors.  Here are some before and during pictures of the floor process to date.

The first cut is the deepest!
Exposing what was beneath.

Clearing out down to the dirt.
Original rock wall foundation.
LOTS of rot!!!
Once we removed what underneath 4 of the 6 rooms, we began to carefully rebuild with modern materials and technologies.  After monitoring the water drainage around the foundation for several weeks, we decided that we needed to attend to the outside of the foundation as well as the interior. So, we installed french drains around the perimeter of the structure.  Once in place, they will work to trap water filtering down beside the foundation and draw it away to several underground catch zones. It was a LOT of digging, both by hand and by machine, but we are hopeful that it will create a lasting difference for drainage on the property.  
Here is what that process looked like....
No doubt it looks like FUN, but it was a lot of work

Careful to make sure the water would drain properly and slope correctly.

Taking a much deserved break!

While we were at it, we added a few coats of water sealer to the outside wall.

Next came the rebuild....but I think I will save that for the next post!  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Looking Ahead to 2014 and Learning from 2013....

"End of December, the sleepy brown woods seem to nod down their heads for the winter..."
Dan Fogelberg, Lyrics to "Old Tennessee"

Lessons Learned

As I write this in mid December, I am coming to the close of my 6th year in the world of custom, personalized pottery.  What I have learned this year can be summed up in the simple thought of "let the customer lead!"  Some of my best pieces have come from ideas that my customers have shared with me.  I keep and open ear and do not fear doing something differently just because it is something that I would not have done.  Some of my most interesting, and successful pieces have come from my collaborations with customers. That said, it is also important for me as an artist to continue to create all those pieces I have floating around in my head.  I find that if I share my studio time with pieces that I have been commissioned to create with those that I "need" to create for my own artistic venting, that I have a good week.  Keeping time set aside, and kiln room set aside for the pieces I want/need to create has been a happy medium for me this year and a lesson learned for sure.


Looking ahead to 2014, I just downloaded Pantone's Wedding Colors for Spring 2014. There are a lot of great shades to work with for my custom pieces, as well as for my ready to ship items.  In particular, I will certainly be playing with Pantone's Freesia - a beautiful vibrant yellow; Dazzling Blue - a wonderful full bodied shade or royal blue; Radiant Orchid - a fabulous shade of violet; and Celosia Orange - a terrific, subtle shade of soft peachy/orange.


Moving forward, one of the things that is beginning to whisper to me from the furthest reaches of my mind, is the notion of preserving my artistic ideas in the pieces I am working so hard to create.  Imitation is certainly the sincerest form of flattery, but within the artistic world it is a big no-no.  While, I have thankfully not been subjected to any other pottery taking my ideas and reusing them, I will be looking into protecting my ideas moving forward for sure.  Being a fairly "type B" person - sort of a more "whatever" type personality.  I have a natural resistance to pursuing such legal protections, but many of my customers, friends, and family are encouraging me to at least look into it.

So, if you have experience or ideas on how I should go about doing this, I would sincerely appreciate your input and experience.  For now, I am focused on responding to my Christmas orders, and finishing my new Studio which should be opening in January 2014. 

It is an exciting time here at Big Dog Pots Pottery, and we are hoping for even more exciting times ahead.

Best wishes to you and yours for a happy, healthy Holiday Season, and a wonderful 2014!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Study in Leaves...

When I first walked into the local pottery studio 7 years ago, I had an idea of what I wanted to create, already in mind.  I have come to learn that sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it only provides fuel to my frustration.  But on that day, I had a thought and wanted to see if I could make it happen in clay.  I had collected pottery from various artist in North Carolina's Seagrove community for about 25 years.  During my many trips to Seagrove, I was exposed to many different artistic interpretations of leaves.  What I was trying to achieve was something more real, or at least realistic in its finished presentation.
Over the past 7 years, I have developed my own "secret" methods to create pieces that use real leaves, and yet allow for glaze and the pottery firing process to alter their appearance.  Here are the basic steps in my process and some pictures to lead you through how I create them.

First, finding the "right" leaf.  After many attempts, what I have found that works best, for my application are leaves that have deep veins.  These are the types of leaves that will leave the best impression, and allow for the most interesting applications with glaze.  I have used Wild Fern, Sycamore, Fig, Grape, Hosta, Hydrangea, and many others.  For this blog, I will show you a recent piece I created with a Fig leaf.  I saw a Fig tree last year outside of a restaurant we enjoy locally, and I thought, "hmmm, I could grow my own Fig tree and then use those leaves!" And so I did.

Once I find the right size leaf, I look for consistency in appearance.  Not necessarily symmetry, but consistency.  This is a subjective aspect of the creation process, but one I find interesting nonetheless.

With the leaf in hand, I then apply it to the raw clay.  In this instance, I have rolled out a slab of clay to make a circular serving dish.  After cutting out the initial circle for the piece, I transfer the slab of clay to my work table and visualize the finished piece.  Then apply the leaf to the raw clay and use a pony roller to impress it.  I let the leaf set up for a while so that when I go to remove the leaf, the clay underneath has had a chance to dry.
Then the piece is dried, and fired to Cone 06.  Once it is bisqued, it is ready for glazing.  This particular piece is being glazed in various shades of blue.  But first, I need to get the glazing onto the leaf impression.  Using ultra-fine brushes, I carefully apply glaze to the edges of the leaf.   This is the hardest area to work with as glaze has the consistency of thick yogurt, and dries very quickly. Once the outside edges are done, I fill in the remainder of the leaf and then let it dry for a period to allow the glaze the "settle."  Once it has dried completely, I apply wax resist to the leaf area so that when I apply glaze to the remainder of the dish it will not be absorbed by the area where the leaf is located.  I use various wax resist products, and there are any number that you can create from scratch, but I do not use a lot of wax resist in my work, so I just purchase mine commercially.  One thing that I have found quite useful is to set aside specific brushes for just my wax resist work.  I keep these brushes in water that I have added a small about of dish washing liquid to in order to keep the brushes soft and allow for the wax not to build up on them.  The brush container is messy, but it does the trick and keeps all of my wax brushes in one place.

 Once the wax resist is on the leaf, I can then apply glaze to the remainder of the piece.  The wax resist will leave a glossy appearance on the glaze once it has dried.  For this particular piece I have layered 3 different types and colors of glaze.  The end result is a speckled appearance which I think adds some depth to the piece.  I was pleased with how these turned out, and have created additional layered glaze combinations the latest of which is in shades of green.  But I think that will be saved for another blog post :).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Coming Back Down to Earth.....or MUD!

It has been an exciting time here for sure.  With the purchase of our new studio property and renovations getting ready to begin, I have returned to the studio, and returned to the mud.

When I first started with pottery, the clay that I used was a warm red brown.  Clay is found in many different types, colors, and consistencies and all of these work in different ways depending upon your application.

It happened that the first bag of clay available to me at the time was red brown, and so that is what I started with.

As I begin my pieces in clay, I visualize the end result.  So that when I begin, I know what clay I want to use.  Clay responds differently all along the process.  Some clay is more malleable and as such may not be good for hand building projects, some clay has more grog (sediment) in it and may just work wonders for particular throwing applications or three dimensional projects.  But all clay respond differently to glazes.  I made this little informational reference for my customers so that they could visualize how their clay choice would impact the end result of their custom pieces.  I learned a long time ago that it is always easier to start with a draft, this visual has been quite helpful.

I received a new custom order just yesterday, and seeing as the wedding is just around the corner, I decided to go ahead and get these trays underway.  They are going to be Wedding Thank You gifts from the bride and groom to their parents, and the wedding with be at a beach venue.  The bride and groom picked red brown clay, and a wonderful crab impression at the center piece.  These trays are still wet, but are well on their way to becoming a family keepsake.  They are a joy to make and I am looking forward to how these will come out.  The bride and groom have not decided on their glazes just yet, and that is part of the fun of custom orders, I get to create someone else's vision.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Come In, We're AWESOME !!!!

Setting the tone.....When I think about the new studio, I think relaxed FUN, with a little attitude!  I found this great sign, and yes, I bought it to hang in the window.  I just couldn't resist the overall sense of FUN it projects to the world!

The studio will be geared toward beginners.  As I am self taught, I know how it feels to be trying something you have never done before, and not be able to get it right.  But with a bit of old fashioned perseverance, it is indeed possible.  I have been told that I have a very laid back teaching style. I present information visually, as well as verbally, so my students find it easy to absorb what I am trying to show them.  When all else fails, the good old hand on hand method can also be remarkable helpful in teaching pottery.

I have been in classes where the teachers are too far "above" beginner students, and that not only frustrates the students, it inhibits them from returning to use the studio once they are working more independently.  I really hope this studio will be a relaxed, welcoming environment where ALL the artists, novice or expert, will come in, and leave, feeling AWESOME!!!!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Swimming Into Fall....

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.....

I love living in a place where the seasons change.  It is so inspirational to see the world change its color palate every 3 months.  So surprising to watch the subtle changes of emerging plants from year to year.
Even the wind gives me ideas....

The movement of fish through the water is so interesting.  How certain species move, glide, sprint, or jump!  It is all interesting for me to observe and I find that ideas about pieces I would like to make can be attached to how my senses react to changes in the environment.  This piece is my "fall fish."  I make a lot of beach/nautical themed pieces during the summer months, but this fish seemed to want to belong in a deeper, richer setting.  Playing with the scales, and various inscribed patterns on the fins was an interesting contemplation of both movement, and providing surfaces for reflective relief.

Without, getting to "deep," I think this guy came out quite nicely, and I am thinking about trying another fall themed piece with perhaps splashes of purple.....

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, less is less.

 Displaying items, whether it is pottery, or thimbles, takes some thought.  While there are as many thoughts and ideas to fill the universe, a display says something about you, and also about what you are displaying. Displays have been a learning process for me over the years.  I started doing commercial displays when I was a manager of a jewelry store at an east coast mall.  There were jewelry case displays, wall displays, and window displays.  All had to be done, and all had to be changed regularly.

     Here are some of my thoughts on displaying items.  I do not put myself out as an expert on this topic, why there are even entire degrees of higher learning in displaying items. I am not a recipient of such a degree, but I don't mind sharing some of the things I have learned along the way.

Sometimes, less is more.  Sometimes, less is less.  

One of the things I look for when I walk into a store is the overall "feel" and the intuitive response it generates in me as a shopper.

Is it cluttered? If yes, my internal response is: "Wow, there is so much here I will never see it all, and it will take too much energy to go through all of this, so I think I will just turn around and leave."

Are they really in business, there is hardly anything here?  If yes, my internal response is: "Gee, maybe they are not open yet and I missed an announcement, maybe I should leave, quietly?"

Does it "flow" and make sense to me the shopper?  If not, then my internal response is: "Hmm, that doesn't make sense, why would they have the boiled peanuts in with the spices?  Shouldn't these have been with the rest of the nuts?"

Finally, in my most unprofessional way of sizing a place up, is it pleasing to my eye?  If it is, then I normally feel calm, comfortable, and ready to SHOP!

In finding my own way to actually opening a bricks and mortar store, with displays, I have decided to err on the side of "simple."  To start off this store, I am going to go with white on white so that hopefully the displays themselves will not over take the pieces, and will not overwhelm the senses.

Monday, September 9, 2013

To Studio Cat or NOT to Studio Cat????

I have talked and blogged and posted a lot about my animals, but I have never really gone into how Sneakers came to be a part of our family.  A few years back we lost our last dog of the two that we had had, and that same week Sneakers appeared at our back door.

Now for some folks, a stray showing up may be a fairly normal occurrence,  but out here, surrounded by cow farms and woods and mountains, (and normally dogs), we had never had a stray show up.

 It was a first in nearly 22 years!

When he first arrived, he was hungry and wary, but still obviously wanted to be petted.  So, we set him up on our front porch and he snuggled right in.  A few weeks went by and he came indoors and all seemed to be just fine.  Our 3 other cats accepted him, or so we thought.  Then, about a year after Sneakers became a member of the clan, our female alpha cat Sammie decided Sneakers was not welcome.  And, well... it has been a rough go ever since.  At this point, both Sneakers and Sammie have been living outside on our porch. They are doing just fine, but they miss us :(, and we miss them.

I am considering moving Sneakers to the Studio once we are open.  He is an incredibly laid back dude. Loves to be held and petted and tolerates being hugged and nuzzled.  I have always liked when I go to a studio and there is an animal lazing around, and I think Sneakers might fit right in :).

Saturday, September 7, 2013

UNDER CONTRACT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We are moving ahead.  Still keeping the exact property under wraps, for now.  But things are definitely moving along.
We plan to settle in the next few weeks.  Then the property will need some much needed repairs, new equipment will be arriving and we hope to move in during November.
Sammie and Sneakers Help with Refinishing a Chest of Drawers
Hopefully, Saturdays in December, we will be open for Holiday shopping.
Then in the first week in January we will begin classes for pottery and other art forms (HINT)!
LOTS going the mean time we are working behind the scenes getting fixtures and other pieces built and/or refinished so that they will be ready to move in when we are.
I have accumulated a number of displays during my 7 years on the show circuit, my theme for the gallery is going to be white on white so that the pottery and other unique items (HINT) will display well. 

I hope to create an inviting, uplifting, and comfortable place where children and adults can immerse themselves in pottery and other art forms (HINT.....yes AGAIN).
These first steps toward making that a reality for my hometown are really very exciting.  Stay tuned as more information rolls out over the next few weeks and months.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Taking the Next Step....Bricks and Mortar????

Well, I have been doing pottery for 7 years.  It is truly a passion.  I think constantly of pieces that I want to make, things I want to try, things I would like to teach.  In my personal life, we are also trying to navigate the transition into adulthood for our son who has special challenges.  On top of that, I have once AGAIN outgrown my current studio.

My husband and I had a long talk, then we had a long family talk.  The result...we began a search for potential places to open a studio.  We envision a place where I will work, teach, have a sales gallery, and provide studio space for other pottery hobbyists who would like a space to create their treasures. My son will be my CEO, he will manage the studio, handle my books, class registrations, and since he is an whiz with chemistry....he will be developing my own glazes!

Now, you may be thinking....well, she can create pottery, but can they actually handle all the aspects of running a business.  Good question.  The answer is yes, we believe we have the combined experience to do just that.
From the perspective of finding a suitable property, to renovating it for our use and setting up a studio. We have lots of experience.  We have built and set up my own private studio, and I have worked and created in many other studios. My husband, before he was a financial whiz in the corporate world, owned a building company.  He built our home and has done major renovation and construction work for all types of properties.  When he decided he wanted something to challenge his brain everyday, instead of his back, he went back to school and earned his MBA (about 18 years ago). So the construction and numbers aspects are checked off! 

In terms of finding a property, I have my own skill set to bring to the table.  Before deciding to be an at home mom, I worked for many years as an Urban Planner in both the public and private sector. I worked to do just what we are interested in doing, analyzing properties for various uses, and when the existing zoning didn't allow what a potential owner what to do, I would work through the zoning aspects with local jurisdictions to help make it happen.

From the perspective of running a retail gallery, I think we are good to go!  I was the manager of a high end jewelry store in a mall here on the east coast, and before that I worked in various retail stores through high school and college.

From the perspective of running a pottery studio and teaching, I also think we are good to go!  I have not only run my own studio and taught privately, but I have also run after school programs, worked with preschools, and have managed a pottery studio locally where I also taught classes for students aged 3-92!

So we are trying to make this dream a reality.  Follow along as we attempt to take my pottery making into a full fledged bricks and mortar business.  Wish us luck!  We may need it :).

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Unique Gift for Wedding, Anniversary, Retirement, or Any Special Occasion

Lace Tray made with handmade Italian 
Wedding Lace

When I first started working with clay I had some "big" ideas about projects I wanted to try.  This tray was one of them.  It is a favorite piece for me to create and I am always surprised with the results.  These trays are made by impressing wedding lace and then individually glazing each and every petal.   They are wonderful as a wedding gift, anniversary present, retirement, or just to have and to enjoy.

These are wonderful for any season.  I have created this in fall these, spring, summer, and even in winter shades using wonderful pastels.

It takes me about 2 hours to glaze a single tray.  Some of my pottery friends think I am "nuts" to make these, but I just keep making them.  I love how the lace appears after the final firing.

 Yes, these are not your average pottery run.  There are normally an average of 4 runs per tray to achieve the final result.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Feeling "Crabby"

This time of year, it is easy to hide away deep inside my studio and "coast".  But, this time of year has usually been when I try new things, experiment, and enjoy working with all things Spring and Summer.  This year is no different and I am feeling quite "crabby".

The temperature is below freezing outside and Daisy, Max and Sneakers (the cat) are all snug and sleeping in their respective beds under my work table, and I am glazing flowers, starfish, seahorses, bunnies, and crabs. Light glaze colors, and new layered combinations should be coming out of the kiln soon, but for now, I think you will get the gist with this fabulous crab wall pocket.  I love to make these hangers, and just really love and respect this vibrant blue.

It is funny how a potter learns which glazes are temperamental and which are tried and true. This one is definitely in the "tried and true" category, but when I experiment with layering, it has been disastrous in the past.  For this particular piece I went with the full on, true Spring blue and was very pleased with the result.

Next up, filling orders for custom pieces which have come in this month.  Getting ready for my Spring show at Ida Lee Park in Leesburg,Virginia, the first Saturday in March.  I will be taking all my new Spring/Summer pieces to that show along with a host of wall pockets and wall hangers.  I have not had that many with me at that show in a couple of years and customers always ask if I still make them, so I am coming back in full force and should have a lovely selection to share.

But for now, back to the studio to finish glazing, run the kiln, keep glazing and run it again! Busy week.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What a Difference a Day Makes

I have been struggling with presenting my pendants in photographs on my ETSY site.  When I take my pendants with me to shows they are a BIG seller, but my sales on ETSY have been lacking.  I know the problem is my photographs and so I set off to find a better way to present them.  I did a LOT of research, and did a LOT of trial and error photographing in various lights, various settings, but I think I have found a fairly simple way to photograph these pieces that hopefully should be able to be consistent as I move forward.

Here is the picture of the first listing I posted on ETSY.  I really like these stones and when I look at them, they appear to be a wonderful contrast for my pendants.  But when I get the pictures loaded onto the ETSY site, a LOT is lost in the translation.

Now, let's fast forward to my latest picture for this piece, I think showing them side by side really shows the difference lighting and background can make.

This is my second attempt at photographing the same pendant.

All I have to say is YEAH!!!  The color, dimension, relief and glaze are really represented so much better in the second photograph.  In the first picture the dimensional aspects of the piece were really lost and the piece appeared to have almost no relief.  In the second picture, I think you can really see the texture of the piece.

The solution was fairly simple.  I waited for a clear sunny day and found a monotone background, that was not black, set up the piece so that the sun was fully shinning on it, but there was no glare shinning off the piece, and I got to shoot away.

Here is the direct link for the ETSY listing for this fabulous and unique piece:

While no two of pendants come out exactly the same, I am able to make sets for special occasions like weddings, birthdays, family celebrations and other special gatherings.  Here is a direct link to my ETSY shop listing for custom pendants:

Hopefully, these new pictures will help to show my customers the true nature of my pieces, I think in this instance, a picture really is worth a thousand words.