Saturday, July 25, 2015

Two Busy Weeks: Archie Bray and Seattle

A little over a week ago I was in Montana for a workshop, "Pots, A Studied Approach" with Peter Beasecker at The Archie Bray Foundation in Helena. It was a week long workshop focused on throwing on the potter's wheel and functional pottery form. 

a wall made of ceramic pipe at Archie Bray

I signed up for the workshop with my students in mind. My own work is sculpture, but the majority of my students are generally focused on functional pottery. 

the view of Montana from the B&B where I stayed

The Archie Bray Foundation was an absolutely amazing place to be. Our workshop took place in the old pottery, about in the center of the campus. The Bray was originally a brick and pipe making factory and the old beehive kilns and some of the buildings are still around, though mostly in disrepair.

old buildings at Archie Bray

Walking around the Bray there is always something to look at, be it the old buildings, the new buildings, the site-specific artworks, the new artwork by resident artists or the abandoned work of the "boneyard."

ceramic pipes at Archie Bray

The Bray has had residents artists since the 1950s, and perhaps the studio where we took our class had been around since the beginning of the residency program. It was certainly an old and less cared-for space.

The Pottery (classroom studio)

Just outside of the pottery where we had classes is an area with a few picnic tables and some landscaping that seems superficially like flowerbeds, but instead of flowers, the beds mostly contain damaged pottery and ceramic sculpture from past resident artists and others who have made work, unsuccessfully, at the Bray.

the boneyard

These accumulations of cracked pottery, sculpture with glaze faults and teapots with lids glazed permanently shut are called the boneyard and can be found piled and stacked and hidden in locations all around the different buildings of the Bray.

cracked work in the boneyard (Jason Walker?)

At lunch and after class on the first day of my workshop I walked around the picnic area and later, the whole Bray campus looking at the abandoned or donated artwork. I continued to walk and look at most of the break times through the rest of the week and each time I noticed something I hadn't seen before.
wheel thrown and altered forms by Martha Grover and (Can somebody tell me who made the pice at the top?)

Of course its also lots of fun to play the artist's name guessing game. So many of the pieces are by well-known ceramic artists and there are so many pieces, that this game could be a fairly extensive one. Unfortunately I didn't discover an answer key while I was there.

the "railing" in front of one of the galleries at Archie Bray

On that first evening I also took a walk around the edges of the Bray to see the site specific installations by different artists. The most immediately noticeable of these is the round "shrine" across from the pottery classroom.

the Pottery Shrine at Archie Bray

 another fun game for Archie Bray: find all the tops (left)

Several of the large-scale works incorporated bricks and pipe that may have been from the original pottery business that pre-dates the Bray as an arts space.

 two large site-specific installations at Archie Bray (behind on the left, an old beehive kiln)

The space was almost overwhelmingly interesting. I would have been happy to visit and just spend several hours walking around the grounds, visiting the resident artist spaces and looking at the work in the three gallery spaces. I took far more photos than I could possibly share without boring my audience.

These things are neat, they were stuck into a gap in a building wall--I didn't see them until the third day.

However, the experience was also exhausting for a variety of reasons.  By the time the week was over, I was too ready to come home. The view of Mt Adams and a familiar valley as I cam down I-82 was a welcome sight after eight hours of driving, the last three through the monotonous flat brown landscape of Eastern Washington.

going home

Sadly, my driving break was short as I had to drive to Seattle twice last week. On Monday I de-installed my Storefronts exhibition on Mercer Street in South Lake Union. And on Thursday I went back to Seattle for my shift at CORE Gallery.

 my work at in South Lake Union

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tessellating Puzzle

For my Dad's birthday, I decided to make him a puzzle based on a tessellation by M.C. Escher. I got the idea from a trip to the Yakima Maker Space. Someone used a 3D printer to make tessellating lizards as a puzzle. I bought the version at Yakima Maker Space. It was a very satisfying puzzle, as it can be rearranged in multiple ways and the feel of the 3D printed plastic is pleasant when the pieces are fit together.

Dad's puzzle, completed

I was curious whether I could make a similar puzzle from clay. I figured the lizards would be too difficult, to cut, so I found a simpler form in these birds. At first I printed an image of just one bird, but as I traced the paper image, the edges I traced no longer lined up correctly, due to inaccuracies in my tracing techniques, I suppose. (I've never been comfortable working with slabs because I tend to measure or cut badly.)

the tessellation pattern during the tracing process

 I ended up printing a larger copy of more birds and This I laid over the clay slab and traced in its entirety before I began to cut.

the outlines from the paper pattern, with some partially cut out

My traced markings and cuts were still not perfect, but they were close enough that most of the finished pieces fit together reasonably well.
completed birds, ready to dry
After I cut the pieces, I cleaned up the edges with a sponge and other shaping tools, then drew lines on the top edge of the birds. (I somehow put the lines on the wrong side of one single bird. I thought about sending this one along with my Dad's other birds as a joke to see how long it would take him to realize it was a misfit, but decided to try that trick on my kid instead.)

fired birds after unloading the kiln

I dried and fired the pieces together, laid out in a grid, just in case there might be some strange heating in the kiln that made them warp during firing. After firing, I added different colored underglazes into the linear designs on the birds surfaces so they would be more interesting to look at and added glaze to their surfaces.

glazed and fired birds, including the reversed bird and one broken bird

Since they are really just a copy of an existing artwork, I don't plan to make more Escher puzzles (except maybe for my nephew), but if I were to make more, I think an accurate M. C. Escher cookie cutter would speed up the process considerably. I couldn't find Escher cookie cutters for sale, but I did find that you could make your own with aluminum foil or a 3D printer. I wasn't up for the challenge of the foil and don't actually own a 3D printer. Sadly, it appears cookies warp too much to tessellate well after baking anyway.

Friday, July 10, 2015


I just unloaded two kilns of mostly thrown functional work. I threw about 50 pieces and lost about 7 to s-cracks in the floor before firing. I suppose this means I have about a 14% loss rate for my thrown work. Mostly I think the cracks came from thick floors or floors that dried too slowly while I was away in Michigan last week. 

thrown work, fresh out of the kiln

S-cracks are probably my biggest problem with thrown work. I tend to get more S-cracks at school, but I've generally attributed this to forgetting to finish my work when I am helping students with theirs.

an s-crack

I've never devoted a great deal of energy to my own thrown work, so I have also never devoted much energy to eliminating problems like s-cracks. From what I have read, they show up for a whole host of reasons, most of which are easy to fix.

In most simple thrown forms, floors cracks because:

  • floors are too thick, when compared to walls
  • floors aren't compressed well enough
  • water sits too long in the floor during throwing or drying
  • floors are still attached to the bat during drying (especially for plates)
  • floors dry more slowly than walls 

most of my cracked work from this batch

In more complex forms, ones with attachments, carving or modeling, cracks can also happen because:
  • wet clay is attached to drier clay
  • different parts of the clay dry at different rates
  • the walls of the pot were stressed (by pressing, paddling, carving too deeply, etc) while the piece was being made or drying

more thrown work out of the kiln

Cracks caused by any of these mistakes can also show up during the firing process as well. Lucky for me, all my work seems to have made it through the bisque firing without more cracks showing up. Now I just have to decide what to bring with me to the workshop in Montana.

a lady slipper I saw near the lake in Michigan

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Throwing for Cone 6

These are the pieces I threw this week with the cone 6 clay to prepare for my workshop at Archie Bray. I threw mostly simple forms, bowls and mugs, but I also tried a few donuts and turned one into a teapot.

I tried a variety of mug shapes because I've been thinking a lot about different mug shapes lately and wanted to have a bunch to compare.

mugs with handles drying slowly under plastic

mug shaped with ribs 
I used the same sgraffito technique on one of the bowls that I used on a box I made last week, but I had the fan on full blast in the studio (since its over 100 degrees outside) and the bowl dried too fast.

I only had one box of clay to work with. I pulled some handles, then threw with the rest of the clay. The result was not enough handles compared to how many mug shapes I threw. I decided to make some of my mugs into tea bowls.

For fun, I threw a couple of donuts. Several of my students were on a donut teapot kick at the end of the quarter and since I've never actually made a donut teapot, I thought I'd made one.

a little wonky, but not terrible for a rushed first time

I ruined my spout for the second donut, so I decided to make a donut vase with the second one. It's not much good for holding water, but it holds this gold rose pretty well.

functional for one very specific purpose

Monday, June 29, 2015

Workshop at Archie Bray, Next Month

Next month I'm heading to Montana to take a workshop with Peter Beasecker at The Archie Bray Foundation. I signed up for the workshop a few months ago and am looking forward to being a student for a bit. I haven't taken a wheel-throwing class since my first year in college. In graduate school I learned from other potters and since then I mostly learn from videos online. Of course I had years of classes in hand-building, kiln firing, kiln building, and glaze and clay chemistry, but very limited instruction on the wheel itself.

throwing sculpture parts

My own work is mostly sculpture, though I use the wheel as a tool for throwing pieces with which I later build. Most of my clay teaching for the past 12 years has been on the wheel. I spend lots of time instructing beginning students on the basics of bowls and cylinders, handles and lids, as well as clay, glaze and firing basics. But those students of mine who spend quarter after quarter throwing on the wheel, sometimes end up practicing techniques I do not get a chance to practice (throwing big, making matched sets, copying complex forms). I get lots of practice throwing simple shapes for my students and sculpting complex ones in my home studio, but I don't spend a great deal of time refining my own thrown forms directly on the wheel, and I only occasionally thrown functional work at home.

thrown sculpture parts

My hope is that this workshop will be inspiring and will give me some good ideas for my pottery classes. I'm not sure what those ideas will be--maybe new throwing techniques or suggestions for improving what I (and my students) already do, or perhaps ideas about form, inspiration and developing a coherent group of functional works. At the very least, the workshop will give me one solid week to be a student and to throw pots for myself (not as a demonstration for students).

thrown work in low fire work

I threw for a few hours last week because the workshop materials list asked us to bring some bisque ware. It didn't occur to me until after I threw most of a box of clay to ask what temperature the bisque ware should be. My main throwing clay is low temperature, but at the Bray we will be firing to cone 6. So, I went to Seattle on Thursday for my shift at CORE Gallery and picked up some higher temperature clay on my way in.

high fire clay ready for throwing, and thrown

I've thrown 25 lbs this morning and plan to throw some more later today and pull handles and trim today or tomorrow. I'd like to get the work dry this week to fire next week, in time for the workshop. I threw mostly bowls and mugs, though I may make some pitchers or even a teapot if I have time.

mugs in low fire clay

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

First Week of Summer Work

Last week I spent some time in the studio, as well as some time at school. I finished a few things, including a window box for some tools. I usually set jars of tools on the window sill behind my work table, but they tend to get top heavy and tip over. This box should be sturdy enough to stay put and narrow enough to fit well on the sill.

box in progress
I made it with red clay slabs. It isn't very exciting, but it's functional. I painted orange slip on the surface and carved it with small loop tools.

finished box drying on the window sill

I'm letting it dry slowly so that it doesn't cracks. I have some other work in the kiln today, for my first summer firing. I made two of these pieces during the spring, one at the Tour of Artists' Homes and Studios, the other while working a shift at CORE Gallery. These sculptures I kept intentionally small because I had to travel with them while they were wet.

pieces in progress at the Tour and CORE

I finished three more sculptures this week in my studio. I kept them intentionally simple so I could get them fired quickly. For two of them, I skipped the bike parts, the other is intended to have just one bike part, as well as some small pieces that will be adjustable. 

sketch of bike piece, adjustable elements, and bike part piece in progress

One of these pieces is in the kiln today. The others are still drying. I hope to start working with the adjustable parts this week and check for fit on the bike part once the pieces are out of the kiln.

three pieces I made last week, drying