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Coastal Artisans Show Dec 6 postcards Can you believe that it will already be December 6th tomorrow?

Don’t forget to join us at the  Mobile Botanical Gardens between 9 am and 4 pm for the Coastal Artisans’ 3rd Annual Christmas Art Show and Sale.

For more info about the artists and directions to the Gardens, please visit: http://thecoastalartisans.blogspot.com

Webb decorated bisque ware I love the look of pots all laid out whether they be green ware or pots  waiting to be loaded in the gas kiln, as these are.   The mugs almost remind me of a regiment of soldiers, or a tightly packed school of fish all swimming in the same direction.

I’ve been finishing up a gas firing this morning, busily trying to keep the gas tank from freezing up until the propane truck finally makes it here this afternoon.  We’re cutting it pretty close though.. down to less than 5% in the tank and I have the garden hose dribbling some water on it so I don’t lose gas pressure completely.   Thankfully though,  cone 9 is bending evenly top and bottom so we’re in the home stretch.

I made a little adjustment to the way my target bricks were positioned this time (an experiment) in hopes of making the firing more efficient.  Evidently it has had some effect because the last time the kiln was stacked similarly, I had a good cone or 2 difference from top to bottom .   I guess I’ll only know for sure once the kiln is opened.

Looking forward to this kiln opening. I have several pots in there with clay from our new clay deposit I mentioned in my last post.

A couple of weeks ago we had a dumptruck load of clay delivered from the new clay deposit.  I guestimated the pile was around 5 tons or so, but as it turns out, our neighbor, who drives for the same kind of truck, told me one of those trucks heaped up with clay like it was, holds something closer to 27 tons (or more?)!!  All 27 tons, just for the cost of trucking it to our studio not 15 – 20 miles away.  (If you have bought commercially prepared clay, you can probably do the math for what the equivalent would be).

We’ve left the dumped clay uncovered and open to the elements now for two weeks or so, in order for the rain to wash away a little of the residual sand off that was picked up in the dump truck onto the clay’s surface. The mound is already starting to turn from a reddy orange to more of a amethyst-y pink clay color.  Yesterday I broke apart a clump  to reveal a piece of nice, clean, sandless solid clay.   Since the time the of the delivery, three or four batches of clay have been mixed.  I have thrown some of it,  and the rest I have left to age a little more.  ..well, until tomorrow, at least, when I start my throwing cycle again.

best digging toolBefore it was time to mix the second batch, though, Lowell took me out to the new deposit site for the first time to help gather some dryer clay for the mix, since the clay we already had at the studio was still a little too damp to crush to a powder.  So off we went..

We drove for about 20 minutes down familiar roads and around familiar turns, when all of the sudden Lowell turned into a little dirt driveway entrance.  It was a lot closer than I thought it would be.

clay mountainWell!  I thought the truck load that was delivered was a lot, but I saw where it was excavated from and it took barely a dent out of the mountain that lay before me.  Here is a picture of what I first saw.  It stands about 20 feet high and is at least 60 feet long .   Its mostly pink clay, though there are layers of white, and red, and a layer further in the middle of some dark shale-like material which I assume is the remnants of decomposed vegetation .

I was chipping away dry surface clay and filling up my bucket, as  the fog gradually cleared.  It was almost like a dream.  Off to my right, was another clay mountain .. and yet another further on.

excavated hillside revealing striationHere is a photo of a hillside that had been excavated with a backhoe.  Sorry,  I couldn’t get the entire hill in the shot but you can get an idea of the various strata.   This layer starts down about 6 feet from the surface and, in this spot, is about 4-6 feet thick.

I’ll try and post more pictures as I can.

Ontario Clay and Glass AssociationSeveral years ago, when I was *very* new to clay, I attended my very first clay conference.    It was really my first introduction to the clay community.  I remember it being a wonderful and unforgettable experience.  I got to try rakuing for the very first time at the preliminary workshop hosted by Ottawa Valley artist Leta Cormier in her, as I remember, extremely immaculate studio.  I also got to take part in my first mug exchange in which I remember receiving a lovely salt-glazed mug by potter Jackie Seaton.  My name was even drawn and I won some nice oriental brushes. But that was not all (and this was the pinnacle for me), John Leach, of  Muchelney Pottery, was the main presenter.  His pots were like nothing I had seen before (I told you I was new to clay) and I was impressed by what a real person he was … very gracious, generous, and down to earth. He left a lasting impression on me.

I recently discovered John’s brother Simon Leach has posted a series of videos on YouTube over the last year or so, showing demos, kilns, visits back to England and to friends’ studios, his philosophies, etc etc.  What I like is he presents things face on and shares his victories and disappointments, the good and the bad,  taking it all in stride.  I don’t think a lot of people are aware how hard it can be to be a potter and that things, quite beyond your control, can go extremely wrong after many, many hours of hard work, and all for naught.  Here is the 2nd of 2 of Simon’s videos taken while unloading Seth Cardew‘s kiln:

stoneware bisque waxed and ready
This photo was from last night before I started glazing.  Oh yeah, there’s a ware rack outside the shot besides this lot as well.  I am glad to say its now all glazed and in a lit kiln, finally.  I’m relieved.  In the morning I’ll load another bisque load, now that things are finally dry, and probably fire the gas kiln again Wednesday night.

The weather is fantastic tonight.  Clear skies, 73 F, and (a rare occurance) no wind blowing across the clearing toward the kiln (and burners).  How nice for being out by the kiln and firing!  This is a relief after a summer of incessant rain. I was getting so tired of having to wear my muck boots seemingly everywhere to trudge through orange mud and puddles, not to mention having to deal with the headaches of trying to navigate my car strategically up our driveway without getting sucked down into a pot hole and stuck!  Anyways, everything is drying up nicely and I am back to wearing flips and birks.

Recycling tradeI’ve mentioned before that we’ve been working on expanding the studio for a while now.  Its actually been an ongoing project for a long time.. scrape together a few dollars, buy a few more boards and nails. I would just love to be able to have all the materials on hand and get it done in one fell swoop so I could get back to some sense of order and normalcy, and maybe take on some students again, but for now, this is the way it is.   This afternoon Lowell headed off to the recycling place in town to trade in some cans and metal stuff that was lying around, to clear up around and get a little pin money, I suppose. Well evidently he ended up having more than I thought because he came back with these.  “These will look great in the studio upstairs!”, he said, with a big silly grin across his face.

Webb Pottery mugs

So Its Tuesday night (Wednesday morning), its 12:20 am, and I’m up waiting for the cone to bend in the bisque so I can turn it off and go to bed.  Grabbed a cat nap a little while ago and though still a little bleary eyed, ready for the final stretch.

No matter how organized you *think* you are, the last 2 weeks leading up to a show tend to be somewhat more tense than usual, what with trying to make sure you have enough fired and hoping everything makes it through the firings okay (can you ever have enough pots?!).  With the studio more or less a construction zone, I have to work around the weather forcast  when it comes to glazing and other related outdoor activities.  Potting is a lot like a well coordinated dancing act.. timing is everything.

The first fall show is just over a week away.  The roof is finally on the studio (yay!) though rain can still blow through a bit from the sides, and I am still working out the house and around everything else.   Pushing things through the bisque as I can, relying soley on the small electric kiln since our other 2 larger ones are out of commission due to faulty bits that still need replacing.  Coming to the realization that tomorrow or the next day are probably my very last throwing days for the show Oct 4 & 5 (The George Ohr Festival in Biloxi, MS) and after that its just glazing and firing and hoping for good weather!   Doh.. forgot to order that replacement part for the canopy.  Tomorrow.

…And so show season begins!

This spring I took one of Alyson Stanfield’s latest art marketing workshops based on her recently published book I’d Rather be in the Studio. I’ve been following her blog on and off for a few years now and it is great, but its nothing like having her right in front of you to interact with and ask questions of, not to mention feed off some of her positive energy.

I regret that this summer has been crazy with both kids home and increasingly demanding as they get older. In preparation for the upcoming time with *both* of them in school and a fairly regular daily schedule of uninterrupted time in the studio (its been so long), I’ve spent the last few weeks cleaning, sorting, organizing, and FINALLY going through bits of Alyson’s book, hoping to start this fall show season off some good footing. With several bags of trash and reclaim removed and the wheel moved to a different spot to allow a better work flow, my work area is so much more inviting and I actually really like being there. The girls went back to school this past Monday and its been really good.

Late last week, in my cleaning frenzy, I finally came across my little tabletop camera tripod which I thought would be really helpful in shooting some pottery videos unassisted. I’ve posted a few videos on Youtube in the past 2 yrs, but my intention all along was to post some demos online as well. Youtube is another great free resource available to get our work and names out there! Making a demo tape is a lot harder than it looks and most certainly different throwing for a camera than for someone in front of you.

Baby Mockingbird

On a sadder note, I haven’t posted much about my little baby mockingbird lately. After his first week of successfully being spoonfed, he/she jumped up one day and bunged up his/her leg. I guess their little legs and bones are pretty fragile because that one never came back. He was lame in the one leg, then a few days later he stopped using his other. Last Saturday morning we found him/her motionless in his little box. I’ll miss the little guy. I was really rooting for him.

Have you visited the NCECA web site lately?

For those who are not potters, NCECA is the “National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts”. Their objective is to enrich and promote the ceramics through education. Most people know NCECA for its annual conference they put at different locations across the country, their exhibitions, and publications.

One of their upcoming events will be a symposium this fall in Jingdezhen, China!
NCECA/Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute International Symposium –
Shared Journeys: Chinese/American Ceramic Art Education

October 22 – November 2, 2008

On the Preview page of the Symposium are slideshows from around Jingdezhen, the Ancient Kiln Museum, as well as a few great Quicktime videos of people there skillfully making and decorating pots, all compiled by Richard Burkett and Joe Molinaro when they were there earlier this year .

The pure magnitude of some of the pots produced there and the skill of the craftsmen is, to say the least, somewhat humbling. ..five foot platters, 4×8′ handmade porcelain tiles, 6/9/12+ foot tall urns… almost unfathomable, especially to those who have worked in porcelain before and know its finicky and particular nature.

So what is their secret? Apparently, I was told, the porcelain in Jingdezhen isn’t like the smooth plastic body we know here in the west, in fact its not very plastic at all, but they have learned to work with this. They throw thick There’s a picture of one segment of a particularly large pot on the Symposium page being thrown by a team of 3 people. For large pieces such as the massive urns pictured on the website, sections are thrown separately, let dry to bone dry, then the segments are bonded together using slip. Once that’s done, they trim the assembled vessel and decorate.

There are still some spots available too.. I sure wish I could go.

Playing with Fire, DVDI found this lovely video/DVD put out by the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) online and thought other people might like it as much as I do.

For those of you who raku, or simply love raku pottery, you may or may not know that Paul Soldner is known as the father of modern raku as we know it today… but that is only part of the story.

This video is available at: http://www.playingwithfirethemovie.com

Please check out this video trailer of the film I’ve linked in from YouTube below:

:

Raku Urn with Magnolia Design

Magnolia Raku Pottery Jar by Anne Webb

Well this was an education posting videos on WordPress.com. It was actually quite easy. Apparently you need to use Vodpod. You install a widget-like menu item on your bookmark toolbar and you can add and embed videos into your WordPress blog from Youtube, Animoto, or various other sites.  WordPress has a Vodpod widget that you can add to your sidebar of videos you have faved on Vodpod. 

Anyways.. Here’s that video again that I put together through Animoto. Hope you like it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Webb Stoneware Pottery Selections“, posted with vodpod

 

 

 

I was messing around with a Animoto, a website that helps you put together videos. Simply upload your pictures, choose some music, and voila.. a video. 

A selection of stoneware pots

Animoto is still quite new to me and have to work out how to embed the video window properly here in WordPress..

The Shimpo Aspire Tabletop Pottery Wheel.

This little wheel weighs 25 pounds, goes on a tabletop, and is supposed to center 20 lbs. Yeah right. Looks like a toy doesn’t it?

Shimpo's table top wheel for beginner to advanced throwers

Well I tried it out and here it is. No toy.

The proof is in the pudding.I don’t remember how much clay I used, but the pot stands 13 1/4″ tall. Not bad. Like any Shimpo I’ve used, (and despite the fact that this one is belt driven vs direct drive) it handles clay without breaking a sweat. Very quiet as well. I like the fact that despite all that strength, its very light and I can easily pick it up, stick under my arm, and go. I’ve tried a Soldner tabletop model (made by Bluebird) and it was great.. sturdy and strong, but very heavy.

Anyways, I was impressed not only by its ability, but by its exceedingly reasonable price.

Thanks to my friend Kathy, here is a great quote by Bernard Leach, the father of modern day studio pottery:

Every artist knows that he is engaged in an encounter with infinity, and that work done with heart and hand is ultimately worship of life itself.
Bernard Leach

When we originally built our kiln in 2000, we used all recycled brick and built it around the size of shelves we already had. It was a flat top, built mainly of stacked arch brick for the walls and a fiber (ceramic blanket) and heavy sheet metal roof. Not fancy, but we had a kiln and didn’t have to spend much money to put it all together.

Cordite shelves beside new flat nitride bonded shelfIt took at least 7 years of painstaking tweaking and firing before I really got to know its ways. About 5 years ago a dog we had knocked over the entire stack of old brick we were using for the kiln door, breaking most of them!! (..sigh) Long story short, it has been a struggle from the get-go to achieve reduction with any reliability, if at all.

As I think I mentioned in my last post, the old kiln as it was is no more. The flat roof – gone. The danger of fiber bits falling down into pots if you accidentally brushed the roof of the kiln with your head when stacking/loading – gone. The flat top was replaced with a retrofitted sprung arch and we finally were able to get new brick for the door. Extra fiber and roofing tin wraps the outer walls now as well.

The other exciting change made was replacing the old severely warped cordite shelves in favor of 6 new nitride bonded silicon carbide shelves. As you can see in the pictures, some of the old shelves were warped an inch and a half to two inches in places (I put one of the new nitride bonded shelves beside the stack of old shelves to show the difference in thickness and flatness). As with a wood or soda fire, loading typically involved painstakingly “wadding” each and every pot for the firing with a mix of 60/40 china clay to alumina hydrate. It was the only solution I could see to prevent warping. I have several potter friends who have those zoomy Advancer shelves that run about $100 a shelf in the size I was looking at. The nitride bonded are a step down from the Advancers, but are a lot less cost prohibitive, costing maybe $20 or so dollars more than a comparably sized cordite shelf.

Thin, flat, and light nitride bonded shelf

These new nitride bonded shelves weigh all of 11 pounds (the old cordite shelves in comparison weighed 44 pounds!), so loading the kiln takes a lot less of a physical toll on me and I can load it independently. I still do wad some – little teeny wads – (vs using kiln wash or sprinkling alumina hydrate on the shelves), especially on those clay bodies I might be firing that might be a bit tighter than our native clay to prevent sticking, Loading takes a fraction of the time as does the preparation of the wadding itself. Now that I have flat shelves, the wads can be glued on in advance as well.

The new arch in combination with the new flat shelves gives me at least, I am guessing an extra foot of stacking space. Not only that but the kiln now reduces and fires more efficiently using about a third less propane per firing. With the rising price of propane ($264 for 75 gallons this last delivery), the upgrades to the kiln and shelves couldn’t have come at any better time. (Better for the environment as well.)

As an aside, we got our new shelves and brick from Larkin Refractory Solutions in Atlanta. Wonderful customer service and knowledgeable staff.

Last fall I started experimenting with bas relief (low relief) design on pots and hand built forms. This style of carving and design seemed to me a natural progression/extension of the designed raku pieces I already do.

Unfired Designed platter

I had a number of pieces ready to glaze, but when we started having serious issues last fall with our raw materials that consequently, left our old standby glazes unusable, I put the pieces safely away until some of the technical issues were resolved. With all that work, I was reluctant to commit them to the fire.

With some long needed changes to the kiln this spring, and a fresh full bucket of celadon glaze, I finally felt brave enough to commit them to the fire.

Carving a relief design and knowing how the glaze will play with it, has its learning curve like everything else. I am anxious to see how this process evolves.

Relief Designed Platter with celadon glaze

Here is that same platter after it came out of the kiln last Friday. It was glazed with celadon then fired to Cone 10 (2400 F) in a gas kiln.:

Raku Bottle, Anne Webb
The holidays are over and life is finally getting back to normal. A much needed the break and change of pace but now I am happily back to making pots again, and looking forward to the first show of the season and starting a fresh new year.

Just before Christmas I took the plunge and went ahead and opened an Etsy store. What the heck is an etsy, you ask? Well its an online marketplace (not an auction site) where independent artists can list and sell their handmade items of all kinds. You can find the most unexpected things if you look.

Sushi plate & bowl, celadon and tenmoku glazes, Anne WebbI first checked Etsy out 3 years ago and at that time, I admit, I wasn’t terribly impressed. Since then, though, it appears to have has grown exponentially. I was happy to find a growing amount of quality work there as well. What spoke to me the loudest is that things were actually selling and for fair prices too. I have sold quite a few nice pieces on eBay (despite how other potters have said how they had done there) so I am most certainly willing to give Etsy a try too.
My store link, by the way, is http://webbpottery.etsy.com

Knowing there is a renewed interest of people going out and actively looking online to buy handmade and to support indie business actually picked me up a bit and gave me a renewed outlook for the new year. I’m not a big or regular shopper except for groceries usually, but this year as I was out looking for stuff for my girls, I couldn’t help but take notice of how much shabbily crafted junk was in the stores leading up to Christmas, mostly cheap, shoddy imports from China. Sure some of the prices looked pretty good, but that’s little consolation if something is obviously of totally inferior quality and looks really cheap. Needless to say, aside from a few low-tech toys for the girls, I ended up making most of my gifts or buying/trading with other local craftspeople.

Made me think.. do people know what they’re buying anymore? Stuff, stuff, and more stuff. That disposable consumerism mindset – quantity vs quality and all that. Evidently its very easy to become complacent for the sake of convenience, accepting whatever big corporate retail conglomerates put on their store shelves, and believing it when they tell us that we must have whatever *it* is. Sad.

Lotus Garden, Raku Vessel, Anne WebbAs a craftspeople, this is something we are constantly scratching our heads over and are all too aware of. People want the big houses, the big car, the pre-fab room settings from “Rooms to Go”, and would rather buy art/accessories from places like “Pier One” than have something unique made by a local artist or artisan. Cookie cutter people. No originality. See and be seen. Automatons who can’t think outside of the box. And the saddest thing, they don’t know the difference either. What does this say about our culture? And more importantly, what does this say about our future?

15 Place will be holding its annual Art Soup empty bowls event during National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week to benefit Mobile, Al’s homeless.

Regional artists of various mediums, not just clay, donate a piece of work: their interpretation of a bowl.

Friday, November 16th, 6 to 9 pm
Cathedral Square Gallery, 260 Dauphin St, Downtown Mobile
Tickets: Just $35 from the 15 Place web site

“…eat hearty soups, drink assorted beverages, munch on artisan breads and gourmet cookies, dance to a great band, BAYRUNNER this year, and at the end of the evening take our bowl home.”

My pottery teacher of years ago once told me (warned me, actually, when I expressed interest years ago in potting full time) “Pottery is a hard way to make a living”. It is very true. A potter needs to be a skilled artist, technician, manufacturer, marketer, administrator, and sales person, among other things, as well as being physically able and have a thick skin.

Throwing pots on the wheel, in reality, only represents a small portion of what goes into producing a finished pot. For every two three days of throwing, there are four or 5 days of doing other tasks. Pots still need to be trimmed, have handles attached and decoration applied, and patiently monitored as they dry slowly before they are loaded into the bisque kiln. If they survive the bisque firing , they are then glazed and loaded into the gas kiln. Because our shelves are so badly warped we also “wad” the bottoms of our pots before the final firing (wadding: dry china clay and alumina hydrate mixed and formed into balls which are strategically stuck to the bottom of the pots to evenly support the base of the pot on the kiln shelf).

A few examples of other tasks we do involve: clay preparation (digging clay, pounding/sifting/”slaking” it down, mixing it, moving it back to the drying area, pugging it (if you have a pugmill, we dont) wedging/kneading it for right consistency); Glaze preparation (measuring out raw materials and mixing glazes in 5 gallon batches; testing of new recipes or color variations also done in smaller batches; doing glaze chemistry); Kiln building/maintenance; Lifting/Carting bags of raw materials & clay; Loading/unloading the kiln; Shipping; Setting up web site / online sales; assembling and maintaining a sales display to take to shows, for example; preparing for and traveling to shows; Find ways to market work (new shows, online marketing, wholesale & consignment opportunities, etc.); etc

When things go wrong with pottery, they tend to go really wrong. Its very disheartening & demoralizing when you have lost half or more of a kiln load of pots that you have worked weeks to produce, due to some glaze, clay, or firing problem. Its even more disheartening when equipment is inevitably going to conk out when you most need it (usually in the last stretch toward a show). Things can go wrong even when you do things right.

We just had a string of bad firings where some of our usually most reliable glazes, thanks to an ingredient problem, not only came out unrecognizable, but fluxed out and ran all over and destroyed shelves. (Raw materials used in pottery are different clays and minerals all mined from the earth, are only as pure as the mine, and can change over time and according to the mine.) The problems are still not quite resolved. I lost I would say at least 1/3 if not more of the work I’ve made this fall due to one thing or another, but mostly due to these glaze problems. Its not just the financial loss, but the emotional strain that hits hard, and doubly so when you have to cancel that show that you were counting on the income from. When you make pots you’re not just manufacturing; you are so connected to your product in every aspect of production, its a lot more, well, personal. For a while there I didn’t want to see clay.

A friend of mine similarly had some very bad luck with some commercial clay (for which, incidentally, the shipping cost more than the clay) she made all of her pots out of for her fall show season. A week after her big fall sale, a customer brought back $300 worth of pots, then another customer did the same. All or most of the pots had quarter-cent sized hunks of the side of the pot popping off. Lime pop-outs apparently, which can take up to 3 months after the firing to appear. Months of work, large financial commitments (show fee, natural gas, clay, etc), and possibly her reputation tarnished, all because of a faulty raw material or the clay not being mixed properly by the supplier. The supplier was very gracious to replace the clay, but the propane has been burned, the pots have been sold, the money has already been spent, and the remainder of her inventory is questionable… and her pride bruised.

We keep making pots because there is always something that pulls us back. Art for arts sake? Bull. Working artists still have to eat and still have expenses like everyone else. Its not impossible to survive off of one’s work but making pots for a living (or any art full time) takes commitment, perseverance, and drive, it is not for the faint hearted.

When you first start learning how to make pottery, you follow your teacher’s lead. You follow the same techniques, use the same tools, and emulate your teacher as best as you can. You take what you learn with you throughout your potting career. Lowell’s favourite thing to say to students as they start out is “First you learn the rules, then you learn there are no rules”. Sure, there are other ways to do the same thing, but as with learning a language, getting a good foundation in the fundamentals is important.

Over time and with experience, we all come to find techniques, tricks, or tools that work better for each of us. Its always fun visiting other peoples’ studios. I’ve noticed over the years that no 2 potters work in exactly the same manner. And potters, while for the most part a kind and friendly lot, are pretty quirky. The longer they work alone in their studio, it seems, the quirkier they get too. …but that’s another post for another day!

Right now I am throwing on an old Creative Industries wheel. I had been throwing on an even older Soldner wheel, up until August when, unfortunately, the 35 yr old motor finally bit the dust (hoping to repair it after this next show).

The chair I use to sit at it is actually an old stool from a yard sale, cut to height. The front legs are cut 2 or so inches shorter than the back legs which makes it less of a strain on my back when leaning over to throw. A low-tech and inexpensive way to work smarter and save your back.

There are a few things I like to have around the wheel:
– A straight sided 2 or 3 gallon water bucket – rim ideal for scraping excess slip off of my hands; clay particles settle nicely in bottom and don’t get stirred up each time I moisten my sponge.
– an old cup to hold my main throwing tools – pin tool, sponge, wooden knife
– a plastic rectangular container for ribs – not pictured, but is an recycled old baby wipes container . The size and shape is just right as was the price
bats – on the left side of the wheel table there is usually a stack of 7″ Creative Industries square bats that I use for smaller items. They have 2 sets of notches molded on the underside to fit different bat pin spacings for both this wheel and the Soldner. Also have 12″ & 14″ round CI bats, and a few Plastibats (which are actually superior, very sturdy and don’t bend, but are unfortunately more expensive). Nice thing about these plastic molded bats is they never rot and seem to last forever. The drawback is they are more expensive, limited in sizes (nothing more than 14″ in diameter). The Creative Industries ones have a tendency to bend when pots being taken off the wheel, so you have to be extra careful.
– a kitchen scale – for weighing pieces of clay out for throwing
– a mirror – (not pictured) helps with seeing the contour of pots while both throwing and trimming. I threw for 2 weeks without one, bending to the side to see the profile, and not only did it kind of slow me down and make my neck/back hurt, but my pots looks different too.
– big table – (the one pictured here is an old door on sawhorses with canvas stretched over it). I will throw a series and when the table is full, get up and move the pots to ware racks.

There was one time I had bins of tools. (Can you have too many tools??) Well, I still have them, but I have narrowed it down to a few that I actually use regularly at the wheel:
– a pin tool;
– a wooden knife;
– a sponge (a medium sized natural sponge; cellulose sponges also work great in a pinch);
wooden ribs (a small kidney shaped and larger one, both Kemper);
2 Sherrill Mudtools – soft/red & hard/green (I like these because unlike a rubber rib they don’t break down and have so far kept their smooth edge; rubber ribs tend to break down within a few months in this climate);
a long metal rib;
– a chamois on a fishing bobber – stays floating in bucket so I don’t ever lose it and its easy to see; cutoff wires of different thicknesses;
– a metal scraper from hardware store;
– a Bison trimming tool
– a Giffin Grip
– a Grabber pad attached to one of my plastic bats mentioned above
– a 16″ square piece of plywood (very low tech) for trimming larger bowls and platters on.
– many sets of metal calipers for fitting lids

Making pots is very physically demanding. Tasks range from lifting heavy bags of ingredients & clay, bending and straining to load and unload kilns, and repetitive movements that can lead to overuse injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Potters need to think ahead and work smart to make sure their bodies can hold up as long as their love for clay does.

Sometimes, though, illnesses and injuries happen no matter how careful one might be. Two of Canadian potter friends of mine haven’t been so lucky when it comes to their health. One has quite serious back problems and has had surgery, but problems persist. My other friend has had epilepsy for years but recently, she has been coping with some pretty serious unforeseen complications relating to her condition. Both friends sought the help of an occupational therapist (O.T.) in hopes that they might help them continue to pot.

In this sort of situation, the Occupational Therapist comes to the workplace, observes the working environment, the working habits, and the tasks that need completing, then makes an assessment and suggests a plan of action.

The occupational therapist recommended to my friend with the back problems, working at the wheel from the standing position. Due to another pre-existing condition, she was not going to be able to be on her feet for any extensive period of time, so the OT worked with her and together, they designed a special “stool”, built specifically to her physical proportions. It wasn’t meant to sit at per se, but it was contoured in such a way that she could take some of the weight off of her legs/feet while still throwing standing up. (Sorry, unfortunately I don’t have a picture.) The other recommendation was that she take on a partner or assistant who would do tasks such as loading the kilns and other such tasks. This worked out quite well for her.

My friend with epilepsy had suffered some major set-backs due to some related neurological conditions, resulting in problems with balance, vision, fine motor skills, hearing, and increased frequency of seizures. Tasks such as throwing, manipulating a brush, and pulling handles were becoming increasingly difficult and sometimes even invoked seizures. A couple of the suggestions that she successfully implemented for working at the wheel were wearing an eye patch while throwing, and throwing with the help of a mirror (no more leaning over). Put simplistically, since her seizures were invoked by certain visual stimuli and physical movements, changing her visual perspective (covering one eye and using the mirror) and way of working, has helped to retrain her brain (much like retraining the brain of a stroke victim) to use different neural pathways to complete specific tasks, including throwing, and work relatively seizure free. So far so good. She is back to throwing again and is doing her first show in as many years this weekend.

I really have to admire my two friends for having the gumption to find a way to keep making pots despite their debilitating conditions and for seeking help from an occupational therapist. I know how difficult it must have been for both of them, after so many years of potting, to have to adjust to new ways of working, but both have made the adjustment successfully and sing praises of their OTs.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day when blogs everywhere talk about one thing: the environment.

Potters tend to have a reputation for being frugal. Some stems from necessity, some stems out of principle. I started thinking about ways in which we here at the studio try to make a difference to the environment and recycle:

– Building: recycled wood & windows in building studio (reclaimed lots of waste wood from hurricanes which would otherwise be taken to landfill or burned).
– Plastics: We recycle grocery bags & use them for shows (people don’t mind when you tell them it is for the environment) as well as dry cleaning plastic which works perfect for covering pots & protecting controlling how they dry
– Paper: Newspaper and newspaper roll ends are used in the studio for a multitude of uses. Also excellent for packing pots away for/at shows
– Metal: We bought a can crusher and while they don’t pick up recycled items here, we take our tin/aluminum cans to the recycle depot when we are in town.
– Appliances: We have two defunct refrigerators & freezers make excellent damp cupboards and places to keep moist clay.
– Old Machinery: our clay mixers are 2 recycled old machines: one is made from an old WWII anti-aircraft gun and the other a 1915 dough mixer.
– Waste wood & pine needles: We get scrap wood cast offs from the local wood mill and use them to fire the wood kiln. Wood and pine needles burn much more efficiently and with less smoke at the temperatures we fire the kiln to, than it would in a burn pile.
– Cast offs: We use cast-off bisque ware (cracked and unusable) in holes in our driveway, and try to use as many of the glazed cast-offs as bird feeders, planters, dog bowls, etc.. Lots of other shards go to a friend who does mosaics. (We have also used waste oyster shells from the local fishery to fill holes in the driveway – smells a bit at first, but definitely organic)
– Our clay: Now that our clay mixer is operational again, we try to pay extra attention these days to recycle all of our scrap clay into a new batch of mixed clay and make it go as far as possible. A lot of the clay we use, we dig ourselves. The white and bubble gum colored clay that we like to use is considered waste clay to contractors (not good for road base) and they are quite happy if we cart as much as we like off.
– Organic Gardening: We try our best to garden as organically as we can. We have several neighbors with horses that are glad to part with their more than ample supply of muck.
– Commuting: Our little chunk of land houses both where we live and the studio, so thankfully I don’ t have to commute anywhere (except to shows, wholesale customers, and some of my suppliers, of course).
With a group of like-minded artists, we also started a small artist collective to hopefully open up more marketing opportunities closer to home and cut back on travel. Less traveling not only saves us expense, time, and wear and tear on our vehicles (and us) but also means less fuel consumed and less impact on the environment.

Coming from away, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of things such as public transit for commuters and carpooling lanes when I first got down here. SUVs are the vehicle of choice it seems here and its not uncommon to see a Hummer or 2 cruising up the road. No attention to carbon emissions on old vehicles either. Big cars, big boats and often big inefficient houses too. How do permits get granted to construct on valuable wetland? Always has baffled me how a place with so much sunshine has so few people taking advantage or even the slight bit knowledgeable of solar power. Welcome to the Alabama Coast. Consuming with very little thought of conservation. You used to be able to see to the bottom of Mobile Bay not 50 years ago, apparently. Not now though. Pollution from industry-friendly Mobile and other places upstream have unfortunately taken its toll. Its a pity.

Southerners are known to be resistant to change but hopefully they will sit up and take notice before it is too late.

Rusty Wiltjer - Waterford MaineStarting back in the early 90s, in the early days of Clayart and various pottery newsgroups, there was a group of us who used to log onto the #pottery channel on mIRC, spending long hours happily clicking away at the keyboard talking about anything related to clay, pottery, glazes, firing, kilns, design, life as a potter, apprentices, etc etc etc.

One of the people I haven’t lost touch with from the channel is Rusty Wiltjer (aka Grulox). Rusty has been potting for over 35 years now and is one of the more technically capable potters I know.

Wiltjer Pottery Sink For the last few years, Rusty has focused on developing and producing his handmade sinks, including his pedestal, vessel, and self-rimming models. They are all individually made on the potters wheel, glazed, then high-fired in his gas kiln . I’ve seen a lot of sinks potters have tried to make out there and .. well, there are handmade sinks, and there are handmade sinks. Rusty’s a precision thrower and his sinks are thrown well, designed well (including back-flow), and are finished well.

Wiltjer Pottery Air Orb 2H DrumWhen I visited his site yesterday I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of clay drums he now has up …and each with a sound clip! Its amazing how a slight variation in vessel shape can affect the tone and pitch. Did I mention Rusty also drums professionally and has on and off since he was a kid? For some time now he has been having a weekly drum gathering session at his house where a bunch of like-minded percussionists (I assume all on handmade or primitive drums?) get together and just jam.

Wiltjer Pottery - Captain Drum Head, 28Rusty’s studio is nestled just outside the town of Waterford, Maine, about one hour north of Portland. If you would like to find out more about his sinks, drums, and pottery, or would like to contact him yourself, please feel free to check out his web site www.wiltjerpottery.com.
Rusty Wiltjer live performance.. in his bandana
Here’s a picture of Rusty playing a live performance with singer songwriter Kristen Short. (Nice bandana eh?)

My name is Anne Webb and I'm a studio potter living and working just outside of Magnolia Springs, on Alabama's beautiful Gulf Coast. Please leave comments!
Drawing Day 2008
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