Friday, January 24, 2014

Choosing A Pottery Wheel.....

Picking out a pottery wheel, my method behind the myriad of choices. It is a tough choice and it gets more difficult when you are buying multiples! There is little real information on overall satisfaction from potters themselves about wheels and their highs and lows.  Yes,there are forums, and discussion threads, and large sales companies who write up the products they are selling.  There are some very detailed reviews on wheels available online.  What I was searching for was a more "ethereal" view point from the potters themselves and how the connect with the wheels they use.  Although I am sure I did not hit ever nook and cranny of information out there, I am confident in my choice, basically because of the way I feel when I use it, and my overall level of comfort with the design.

Basically, I am a Pacifica GT800 potter, and I will tell you why....  I have thrown on Brent, Thomas-Stuart, Creative Industries, and Shimpo wheels of varying ages and styles (including the stick shift version), and not being a kick wheel user, I did not investigate those options.  Of the wheels I have used I just keep coming back to my Pacifica.

While a number of the manufacturers listed are substantial and venerable for sure, for my purposes, and the students I anticipate working with, I believe the Pacifica wheels will do a wonderful job.

I am not going to go through all the other styles and tell you what I liked and disliked about each and how they stack up against one another. Instead I thought I would simply share what I LOVE about my Pacifica GT800  which I have been using, basically on a daily basis, for the past 6 years.

Me Throwing on a Shimpo Wheel
First, it is solid.  It doesn't move, rattle, clank.  It stays still and lets the wheel head do its job.
Next, it is QUIET.  Very important to me because for me wheel work is often meditative and quite is paramount.  No distracting noises, none. The splash pan is super easy to put on and take off and I never seem to hit that "oh, I have the pieces reversed" dilemma. I really like the non-porous work table that is built right in.  It has lots of room for tools, water buckets, and all those other nick knacks you just have to have when you sit down to throw. Finally, I think it is important to purchase enough throwing power so that as you progress and build your skills you are not limited by the size of your horsepower.  The GT800 has 1.0 hp which is all I will ever need.

So, this was my process.  It was not scientific, but I am confident my students will enjoy throwing on these wheels for many, many QUIET years to come.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Down to Earth....

As we are closing in on the last few days of bringing the construction phase of our "little project" to a conclusion. I am beginning to think in earnest about all the details of what, where and why in setting up the Studio and Gallery.  We have made some last minute changes, and I am thinking that the changes will work well and allow for lots of interesting opportunities.

First up is the actual layout.  We decided that in order to better use space and keep the actual creation processes on tile surfaces (think muddy here), we will be adding some additional Gallery space.  This will serve several purposes, first to encourage visitors to feel welcome past the first two rooms and encourage them to go "behind the scenes" into areas of the Studio where work will be in progress. Second it will allow for additional area for sales of both work by our Studio Artists, as well as some of my favorite non-pottery art work which I have discovered along my journey into mud.

Having participated in many Fine Art Shows over the past 7 years, I had the joy of meeting and getting to know several artists who create phenomenal work, and yet like me they strive to keep their prices down to earth and affordable.

Yes, there will be a few items that will be in higher price ranges, but overall everything in the Gallery will be affordable art for everyday, or for that special day when something unique is needed. All of the pieces that I create will be available for custom order with choices of text, impression, clay base and glaze colors.

It is my hope that the Studio will be a welcoming and friendly place where people look forward to come and explore being creative, or come looking for unique creations.

In the meantime, we are setting up all the needed "number things" book keeping, scheduling, ordering, and ultimately, very soon  MOVING IN AND SETTING UP !!

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!!!!