Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Kinkadian Nightmares

Well, hello Dali
This is Thom, Dali
It's so nice to cop your chops with such aplomb
I'm painting swell, Dali
Light from Hell, Dali
Sheep don't know it, fire's a glowin',
still they come

So, golly gee, fellas
Sign another check to me fellas
Charlatan, your dream's alive today!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Chicken fried bacon.
I sit here in stunned silence. I am without metaphor. It's not exactly "gilding the lily". I wonder what chicken fried lily would taste like. Not daylilies. They would wilt before you got 'em to the fryer. Nothing should wilt before you get it to the fryer. Unless you spelled it "friar". I really don't know enough about the monastic life though to even hazard a guess as to whether they fry lilies. Or if they even spell them "lillys" as one might do if he were consulting google in order to correct his spelling, but rather than landing on a link that was, say, a link to a dictionary, instead they clicked on a link to some undereducated blogger named "Lilly". But what if the blogger was really named "Lilli" and, though her name was spelled that way because she had been raised by hippie parents who named their daughters, "Lilli", "Sunlight", and "Griffin", had instead chosen the name "Lilly" as her blogging pen name? Then not only the reliability of the spelling, but the very essence of meaning would be challenged down to its roots. Which really don't grow that deep. I mean, most lilies are bulbs and rarely have a root system that extends much more than, say, five inches below the bulb, and far less than that distance in circumference. And bulbs have always been believed to have been essentially round. Even before Columbus the world believed in round bulbs. It wasn't until the 19th century that some hoaxer came up with the notion that medieval man believed in flat bulbs. But they didn't. There's just no way that medieval men in their thatched roof cottages could hope to light those homes with flat bulbs. They wouldn't give off sufficient light to read their copies of Beowulf and Saturday Evening Post. Though they could probably get the gist of the cover illustration because of the oversize of the publication, and Norman Rockwell's very literal interpretations of everyday living. Sometimes, late at night by the light of round lily bulb flashlights held surreptitiously beneath the covers, medieval youths would read their Beowulf comic books and listen to far away ball games on crystal radios with a tiny earpiece whining the voices of Jack Buck and Harry Carey into their little medieval ears. Then, of course, medieval moms would yell from the bottom of the stairs to "SHUT OFF THAT LIGHT AND GO TO BED, YOUNG MAN!", while dad would climb the stairs, crack open the door, and ask for an update on the score.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Springfield -- Well Worth The Wait

I just got back from Springfield Old Capitol Art Fair. What a charming, well-attended, treat-artists-like-royalty show! I had juried into the show some twenty years ago, but back then I also wanted to try another show (East Lansing -- which, itself is also a very nice show). In making that choice though, I condemned myself to a long wait to get back into the SOCAF show.

The wait was worth it. I met so many nice folks who were serious about good pots -- from an interesting Xing teapot collector, to some folks I'd met in years past at other shows (Louisville and Lafayette). Several other potters with whom I enjoyed gabbing about clay's joys and trials.

The show had some really tremendous pottery too -- Bruce Jordan and Steve Cunningham among the best. If you love pottery, walking SOCAF is a swell way to spend a day.

I've had my trials and tribulations (as I've documented here on this blog) with glazes this year. But as is often the case, with every bad firing -- due to the changes that made it bad -- usually some accident comes of it that makes a few overwhelmingly good pieces too. Such was the case with a series of jars in my maple leaf pattern.

Some potters (like, for instance, John Glick) will actually charge more for a pot based on the serendipity that makes one pot just "pop", while another similar pot merely comes out as intended. I've never figured out how to do such pricing without somehow implying inferiority in the pieces that merely came out as I intended them to come out. But if I ever had figured out how to price special pieces based on just how great and rare I think they came out, you can bet that these jars -- and especially the one pictured -- would be priced to reflect a pretty great and rare firing. I wish I'd taken the time to photograph them in my photo studio because obviously the good folks in Springfield liked them too. They're all gone.

This morning on my drive to go pick up the dogs from the kennel I noticed a new colt had been born over at my neighbor's place. The baby's full of spit and vinegar! I was lucky enough to have been shooting some video as the young'un kicked up it's baby heels and wheeled around the pasture a few quick times.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Little Guitar Fun

written by John Bauman

guitar music: composed/played by Kevin Lee
narration: Stacey Potthier and Kevin Lee

...thanks to Irving Berlin and Fred Astaire

Monday, May 11, 2009

Around The Shop In Several Days II

Actually, I ran my shop for nearly 15 years without a pug mill. Back then I had to "wedge" all the clay. Wedging is done on a heavy canvas-covered-plaster table with a wire (in my case, a guitar string) strung across it.

In order to homogenize the clay, one cuts the clay into smaller pieces and then slams them back together on the canvas. After successively cutting and slamming, the clay is then sort of "kneeded" in a spiral. I say "sort of" because kneeding actually puts air into bread dough, but the motion of clay wedging is to roll the clay in a spiral in a manner that doesn't put air into the clay.

I still do a good bit of wedging. When making handles, the clay is better when the particles have been lined up in that spiral that wedging creates. The clay tends to adhere to itself better when pulling a handle from wedged rather than pugged clay.

Tomorrow, handles....

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Around The Shop In Several Days

I get my clay pre-mixed. In fact, rather than having a custom blend, I chose a commercial body. It's a way of hedging my bets on clay quality -- that is, if there are problems with the clay body (and there always are with something that, like clay, is mined), I am more likely to find out quicker with more potters using the clay. I currently use three types of clay -- a stoneware, a white stoneware, and porcelain.

I order 2400 pounds at a time. The picture below is a stack of the stoneware. When I get the clay, the stack of 50 pound boxes of stoneware is about five feet high, covering over a window.
When I make my way down the stack of clay boxes, sometimes I find someone waiting for me outside the window. Look!'s Ariel! ....can we go for a run, Pop?!

Inside the fifty pound boxes are two plastic bags of twenty-five pounds each.

I am a fortunate guy. I have not just one, but two pug mills. I bought the second one from a retiring friend. They are both these Vencos (made in Australia) -- the Cadillac of pug mills. The clay goes into the hopper, the plunger arm comes down and levers the clay into an auger that runs the length of the tapered barrel. When the clay comes out the other end it is de-aired and homogenized.

It's a funny thing, but even though the clay comes to me mixed, and even though it is in plastic bags, the water content of the clay will still migrate to the bottom of the lump of clay, making the slug of clay harder on one side than the other. What that means is: If you've ever turned wood on a lathe and run into a knot, you know how important the consistency of the material is to making something round. On the wheel, if one side is hard and one side soft as it passes through my fingers, I will end up pressing too hard on the soft, or pulling the clay right off the wheel when the hard spinning clay trys unsuccessfully to pass through my fingers.

Tomorrow, the wheel...

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I think we like to systematize knowledge for two basic reasons.

1. so that we can learn more and remember more of what we learn.
2. so that we can feel better about the stuff we don’t know.
As to the second: We seem to take comfort in the feeling that if something was important enough to be worth our time to learn, it would or could have already been systematized so that we could learn it. This notion itself is (somewhat comically) circular. In other words, implicit in the probability that something worth knowing would already be systematized is the notion that even systematizing is systematized. And it is. But some systems are more accepted than other systems.

And systems sometimes seem to be sort of like a project of assembling a multiple part puzzle. Often we work for a very long time, can tell we’re nearing the end, and then we realize there’s a piece or two left over that can’t be made to fit externally, but rather might require starting over. But the project LOOKS complete (if we can but find a way of hiding or destroying the evidence of incompleteness – those leftover pieces).

And in real life, when it’s not just a puzzle, but rather, a real bit of evidence that just maybe the system under which we’ve assembled all of our knowledge, such as to hold it all conveniently usable, has a weak spot or two, we may be under even greater pressure to hide, or hide from that evidence.

Maybe it’s professional pressure. Maybe our employment is with a system manager (so to speak) and further investigation of weak spots may not just rock the boat, but throw us overboard.

Maybe it's age with its alternating smugness and weariness. One day we’re pretty content with our choice of system, and quite comforted by our surety that our system is better than their system (carefully making such comparative assessments while purposely avoiding the alternative systems that MIGHT challenge our smugness). And the next day, we’re just too tired to even think about starting over with a new set of assumptions.

Here, however, are some safe assumptions (me being the ever-helpful potter-philosopher):

Stuff that makes this potter happy…

1. Good, plastic clay with which to push myself to my limits.
2. Limits, the definitions of which grow broader regularly.
3. Glazes that are dependable enough to help me make a living, and unpredictable enough to keep me interested.
4. A mind young enough to see the possibilities in the accidents inherent in clay work, yet old and wise enough to know how not to needlessly repeat them. A mind evergreen.
5. An appreciative audience – critical by way of the avenue with which I’ve chosen to communicate with clay.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Dar and I were driving down highway 65 towards Louisville -- our annual trek to the St James Court Art Fair. I turned to her and said....

....okay, I didn't really so much turn to her because I was driving and had my eyes on the road, but I gave her one of those, "y'know?...." intros that let her know (because she knows me so well) that I was about to unleash one of my gasbags of incoherent and meandering thought that she could either tune in and listen to, or she could ignore, close her eyes, and catch up on the sleep that she'd just lost in the overnight rush to get everything together and packed into the van for the art fair

Anyway, I said...

"Y'know, if I ever did win the lottery...say, maybe 20-30 million or so -- not some measly 1 million that, after taxes would only leave me moderately comfortable, and the target of everyone's envious rage ....

...but if I won some serious money, y'know what I'd like to do?"

Dar didn't reply.
I didn't wait.

"I'd set myself up in a small, totally energy efficient house -- I'm talking wind generators, geothermal heat, solar panels, insulation out the wazoo such that I could heat the place with an Ohio Blue Tip match, or cool it with a single ice cube set on a plate in the middle of the room. And I'd do the shop the same way -- perfect amount of working space, good working kilns set up to operate as efficiently as possible. And the shop would have the tools I needed so that every creative impulse that drives me would find a road to roll down. And I'd pay off the mortgage and whatever other outstanding debt I might have so's to have a clean slate. Maybe I'd set up some sort of trust fund sufficient to cover medical insurance for the rest of our lives...

...and then you know what I'd do?"

Dar still didn't reply.
I still didn't wait.

"I'd pass along the rest of the millions to another struggling craftsman who would willingly, contractually agree to do exactly the same thing with the remainder of the money and then pass it on to another craftsman who would again, willingly and contractually agree to do the same thing... that with one lottery winning, dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of craftsmen could be set up in circumstances that allowed them to pursue their creativity in perpetuity -- not in luxury, but with a bit of security and efficiency that is usually only afforded the very wealthy or the very lucky."

Apparently Dar was listening after all. She replied, "What? ...are you nuts?! I'm finding a beach in Hawaii and sleeping until the year 2014."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Values & Valuables

One of the things I enjoy most when I watch Antiques Roadshow is the number of times I'll see items brought onto the show that are examples of things created because someone wanted to make them more than they wanted to sell them. Just the simple enjoyment of industry.

It's said that man really only has two basic needs -- security and significance. Deriving no significance from that which brings our security leads to the decline of excellence. And deriving too much significance from that which brings us no security leads to potters and guitar players.

'Momback, Joe! 'Momback!

HUGE upload to etsy last night and today! ************phew**************