Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Poems and Pitchers

You might be a poetaster
If in a dreadful panic
You reach for lines titanic
That sink like Jacob Astor

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Remember the parlor game? Telephone. You whisper something into the ear of the person next to you who in turn whispers what they heard into the ear of the person next to them -- and so on around a circle of friends. In the end, the enjoyment is in seeing how much the "rumor" has changed by the time it completes the circle -- whispers to ears.

A while back I did a short demonstration video on how I create the fluting or striping on my pots (like the pitcher to the left here).

Scott, from the creatniks pottery emailed to tell me that they'd been experimenting with the idea. I'd say, quite successfully too, as illustrated by this beautiful azure vase.


On this quiet Sunday morning, I've got the shop to myself and my guitar...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sixty Minute Man


SP: There are reports that you've turned your pottery over to the making of leaves. Is there any truth to the rumors?

JB: Scott, to tell you the truth, I'm tired of waiting on the trees. It's been a long, cold winter and the trees are, quite frankly, taking too long to bud and leaf out.

SP: But it's only Marc...

JB: "Only". Yeah. "Only" March. It's been a full five months now since I've seen anything but dried up old, brown oak leaves hanging from mostly naked trees like so much dirty laundry. As I said, I'm tired of waiting.

SP: How exactly do you make theses leaves?

JB: It's a combination of slab, throwing, casting, and altering techniques.

SP: All that? ...for just one piece?

JB: Yes, well, I had this idea in my mind -- almost a full-blown idea the moment I thought of it. I knew what I wanted and I knew how I was going to make it.

I took one of my huge, 20 inch bowls and, using it to define the dome of the future leaf, I cast plaster molds with leaf imprints in them. With these molds I can toss a slab down on them and the slab will then have the desired dome shape AND the impression of a leaf on it.

Then I walk over to the wheel with the plaster mold -- slab atop it -- and chuck it up with my Giffin Grip. There I can throw and compress the leaf from the backside by pressing a wet sponge against the spinning slab and working my way out from the center.

Then I attach a thrown foot to the slab...

SP: It's beginning to occur to me that this is a lot more work than necessary. For just a leaf bowl? Couldn't you just slam the slab on the mold and let it dry and pull it off? Do you really need a foot on it?

JB: First, "could" isn't a very good measure around a pottery shop. "Should" works better for me. I don't favor the notion of "good enough". Thinking that way is not only an affront to my sense of what makes a good pot, but it also would imply that I think very little of the sensibilities of the people who might want my pottery. I don't think so little of my customers. I'd like to hope that the people who buy my pottery aren't searching for "good enough". And so far, they've proven me correct.

So, no. I didn't want these leaves to so easily betray the method by which they were created. I want the method of creation to be so transparent that the first impression my pot leaves isn't how it was made, but rather, what it IS. I didn't want the "slab-ness" of the piece to be so readily evident.

SP: Well, I'll grant you that it's not. I hadn't really thought much about it, but it appears at first glance to be a leaf that's cut out of a thrown bowl form. That's why I wondered more about how you got the leaf impression in it than how you formed the bowl.

JB: Thanks. That's what I was after. That's the illusion I was going for. Beyond that, though, I also wanted a piece that would be elevated from the table -- lifted above it by a foot. Leaves are light. They flutter and float in a breeze. When they land on the ground it is not with a thud, but with a silent resting. And they don't entirely touch the ground even when they rest upon it. They aren't flat. Sometimes they rest aground with just the slightest touch of stem and lobe. I didn't think my leaves should appear any less light.

SP: And then you further push them out of shape?

JB. Yes. I like to lift the leaves from the plaster in time to manipulate the edges quite a bit. I pinch, bend, and stretch the edges and try to create a more natural undulation to the rim. Again, I'm going for that mystery -- the using of my hands to disguise the use of my hands.

SP: Well, if you get these fired in the next week or two, you'll beat the trees to greening out our Springtime.

JB: Exactly.

Friday, March 11, 2011


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 (so 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, March 8, 2011

Double Barrel

I've spent the better part of the past two days making a cabinet for a pugmill to rest atop. I've had a second pugmill in my barn for the past 5 years -- no room in the shop. FINALLY I've moved the office into the house, and the pugmill is in the shop, ready to help me prepare my clay this year. It's a luxury, but running a two clay studio is made much harder without the right tools. I'm hoping this will help.

This pugmill first belonged to my friend, Dave. I wrote a little bit about my friendship with Dave here. This pugmill's a few years older than the pugmill beside it in the photo. I'm hoping it will take up the porcelain prep duties. If it doesn't, perhaps I'll sell it. Such a nice piece of equipment shouldn't be languishing in barns.

Waking Up Etsy

After a month or so of neglect (I had to finally find time to clean the shop, make pots, and I also moved the office out of the shop) I'm finally back up and making some great sales on Etsy. I am so thankful for the faithful and for the new who support my Etsy site. You're just the BEST!

Unusually, this is the first small porcelain casserole I've ever put up on Etsy. I just usually make larger porcelain casseroles. But I split my thrown inventory between plain and my new pine cone casseroles. Now I have a few of these and I really like 'em.

I lined them with the amber celadon glaze and I like the contrast and the surprise. As is typical of celadon, it leaves a liquid appearance that is a nice contrast with the eggshell/matte exterior surface.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Thinking About La

“Do” is not a deer, female or otherwise. First, even if she was a female deer, to point that out would be redundant anyway. Right? ...I mean, if she wasn’t a female deer, she’d be a “buck”, right?

But “Do” is not a deer, “Do” is a verb expressing the imperative mood.
“Do this. Don’t do that. Can’t you read the sign?!” –Five Man Electric Band

Besides, if “Do” was a deer, a female deer, I’m just sure that with that misspelling, during her elementary school days she suffered no end to being called “Dew” or “Due”. There’s just no way to get “Doe” (rhymes with “go”) out of the spelling “D-o”. How embarrassing for “Do”. No doubt she constantly had to explain the spelling to her teachers…

"It's French", I can almost hear her say.

And “Re” isn’t a “drop of golden” anything. “Ray” is my plumber. “Re” is a prefix. If Ray could prefix my plumbing, he wouldn’t have to make house calls. But I’m not waiting for my basement to fill with water on that possibility.

And when referring to myself, I don’t spell me, “mi”. And it’s really not a “name” I call myself. It’s a pronoun that refers to me, but that’s technically not a “name”. Technically, it is a referent.

“Mi, a referent by which I refer to myself, but spell differently.”

Fa may be a long, long way to run if you live down south and are given to droppin’ final consonants. Which brings up an interesting anomaly…

A southerner might drop the final “r”, making “fa” out of “far”. But this dropping of an “r” is obviously not because of the lack of ability to actually articulate the final consonant. I’m guessing that it is for clarity. I’m guessing that it done so as to differentiate between the long, long way to run, and observable combustion.

Which brings up another interesting observation: A southerner would NEVER yell “fire!” in a crowded building.

"So". Again with the unnecessary misspelling. “So” and “sew” are homonyms, even if “sew” looks as though it might be pronounced “Sue”. And yet, it, not "so", is the needle-pulling-thread word. I can almost hear the songwriter….

“So, sue me”

And that brings me to the pathetic, “La”. No identity in herself. She is merely “a note to follow So”.

Totally codependent.

I wonder if there is any kind of support group for co-dependent major scale notes. Going through life only finding identity in the act of "following So" would, I believe, eventually lead to neurotic behavior, if it isn’t already indicated.

And just to function in the musical world? ...I imagine it would be such a burden to ever be wondering things like, "So, how closely do I follow So?". "Are there cultures in which I should follow further back?". The pressure to perform must be overwhelming at times.

At times I'll bet that, like most co-dependent relationships, La has almost lost the sense of where So ends and La begins.

Just guessing here, but I’ll bet La has trouble ever being any more than a 64th note

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's Code, Not Cliche

It’s Code, Not Cliché

Butch, the owner of the local Ace Hardware, has made a practice of tapping a great, knowledgeable but inexpensive workforce -- retired old guys.

One day, after I had spent about forty minutes getting one of the old guys to cut me 50 feet of 1/16" cable, Butch approached me in the aisle as I headed toward the checkout. He wanted to know if the service I got from the old guy was OK.

"You know, Ed's 88." he said, "I like the idea of these guys having something to do besides wasting away sitting on their butts 'til they die. Still, I'm hoping the service they offer here is to the customer's satisfaction."

“It was fine”, I said. For some reason the forty minute wait suddenly didn’t seem to matter as much to me anymore.

The Ace guys talk in old man short hand. They never tire of an old joke or a good cliché. In one short(er) visit to the hardware I heard: “I don’t get mad. I get even”, and “No matter how many times he cut that board, it was still too short -- ha ha”, and, “You don’t like the weather here? … just wait five minutes”.

I don’t think that they think they’re being original, clever, or even funny by these ritual repetitions. I think they believe themselves friendly. I believe they’re right.

My wife and a few of her friends used to take their dogs to the local nursing homes each month for “pet therapy”. The more infirmed older people really seemed to respond well to the affection of a dog. The more coherent ones would regularly launch into tales of the dogs in their past. The reminiscences seemed to bring them joy in addition to helping them pass the endless, empty hours of nursing home life.

In a very short time it was evident to me, in the few times I’d go along with her on her pet therapy rounds, that the old folks had taken a real liking to my wife. By really listening to the old folks on her visits, she showed a kind of interest that meant a whole lot to those people.

I remember a story I read of a woman looking for the right nursing home for her mother who was going to require constant care. She went from nursing home to nursing home – each seemingly loving and caring, but for some reason the woman didn’t choose them. The place she chose seemed little different in any way from the many others she had rejected. When asked about her choice, she explained that it was the first place where they addressed her mother as “Mrs _______”. All the others referred to her by her first name or, even worse, as “honey” or some other sweet nickname. The daughter wanted her mother in a place that respected, rather than patronized her mother. She felt as though a woman who had lived a respectable life didn't stop deserving respect just because she lost the ability to care for herself.

I was standing in line at the post office a few months ago. One older gentleman, probably in his 80’s, was standing right behind me. Another, younger -- maybe 70’s but farm-work rugged -- was almost up to the window. The man behind me said “Hey Jack.” and the fellow up-line turned, smiled and said “Hey Ed. How’s life?”

“Every day this side of the sod, y’know?” replied Ed, and then he added, “I’m just thankful to be on my own still. After seeing Alice into Miller’s (local nursing home) before she passed on, well, I just….well, I’m just happy -- happy to be at home. Glad I still get around on my own.”

They talked a while longer until it was Jack’s turn at the window. Jack wished Ed well and then turned to the postal clerk. “I’ll have a book of those left-handed stamps please.”

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Amber Waves Of Glaze

A number of factors play into the color: What clay it's over, glaze thickness, temperature, atmosphere....it all matters.

This is my latest use of the glaze -- my new pine cone topped casseroles.

This photo is deceiving. This was a BIG bowl -- maybe 14 inches in diameter.

Note the redder appearance? I figured out I could get all kinds of different colors if I first sprayed the porcelain with my oribe glaze -- basically coat it with lots of copper.

These were some of the bowls I did for the Goshen Empty Bowls a couple of years ago. One third were lined in oribe, one third in cobalt, and one third plain.

Celadon is hard to photograph, but again you can see the depth of color added when sprayed with oribe glaze first.

Out in the bright sunlight.

12" diameter and then cut to follow the stamped pattern. Lined with oribe...the glaze was a bit thin.

Friday, March 4, 2011


My last few posts have been a teensy bit wordy and not very pictury. I will try to rectify that with this post. This'll be mostly pictures with a few explanatory grunts in between...

I uploaded some of yesterday's firing onto my Etsy page this morning. The above bowl -- a fifteen-incher in my Millring Green glaze with a subtle rim and equally quiet swirl.

A pitcher and a small casserole in my blue slip under yellow glaze combination.

This is the pitcher I blogged about here and here and with which I created these videos...

This is the pine cone casserole in porcelain with an amber celadon glaze.

Here's some progress with the guitar slides -- the first three fired yesterday.

I had this casserole with a crack in it laying around. I wanted to see how the "Yellow Salt" glaze would break over texture. This glaze has some possibilities. I won't use it as it is on the casserole, but be looking for some new pots to show up with that glaze as the basis (I gots some good ideas!).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

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

How To Breedlove

.........here’s the Lowden.

Martin thought Taylor was a Goodall around person but Stelling seemed in Klien to Fylde Wechter....
.....if she’d just Gibson instead of Takamine it’d Turner from her Guild and Greven....

Still, he Langejans for her.

McCollum up!

So Collings Epiphone – can’t get that Galloup his mind, she’s so Deering.

He Godin his car, Santa Cruz over, Campellone on her porch, Wingert love, and Guitar to Merrill him.

Soon he’ll Tacoma Breedlove, Hohner, Carruth Sand Charis her forever. Weissenborn to love her but Stella something that he learned and loved Doolin. She became the Laskin he’ll ever need.

And they’ Leach live happily Everett.....

......Martin, Taylor, Andersen….

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Observations For Eddie

• If you are a potter who is working alone and you don’t sell wholesale (thereby necessitating a restructuring of your prices so that they don’t undercut the prices of your gallery/reps) then your pricing may technically be “retail”, but in reality your prices are neither retail nor wholesale. “Retail” and “wholesale” describe pricing that is based upon the manufacturer not being the same entity as the marketer. As solo potters we are both.

• Since, as solo potters we are both (maker and marketer), then we also need to face the reality that at least some of the savings we gain by cutting out a middle man marketer, we lose in the change of hats from maker to seller. It takes time away from the making to do the selling.

Still, it may be to our advantage to finally recognize that art fairs and internet sales allow us an enviable position of spending less of our time wearing the marketing hat. And the more attractive we make our prices, the less time we have to spend marketing our pots. If our prices are attractive, we don’t need to beat the bushes to find willing buyers – it is that “beating the bushes” that requires the inordinate amount of marketing time.

I, for one, would rather be making than marketing.

• The value/price of a given piece is not exactly what someone is willing to pay me for it. Not if I intend to make a living and a business from the making and selling of pottery.

No, the value/price of a piece is the price at which I can consistently sell it (or pieces like it). And adding a time factor to the equation roots this concept into an even more accurate footing.

That is, the price of a piece is the price at which I can consistently sell multiples over a year’s time. This means that if I want to determine the value of, say, my pitchers, it is to my advantage to find the highest price at which I can consistently sell pitchers over a year’s time. Thus determined, my annual pitcher income should meet my need to make income from pitchers measured against my desire and ability to produce pitchers at that rate per year.

So if I LOVE to make pitchers and can do so at a rate that allows me to make what I need from a year’s worth of pitcher production, then I’ve arrived at a do-able price for that pitcher. If, on the other hand, I cannot keep up, or I really don’t like making pitchers, I need to alter my prices.

• Potters have one foot in each of two conflicting worlds. We have one foot in the art world and one foot in the craft world. This would be fine if we were more keenly aware of which foot we were standing on at any one time. But I don’t think we are. Why are they conflicting? Because the marketing concerns and models are almost completely different. And at odds with each other.

There is a chart that is making the rounds of the internet that illustrates an interesting reality that I believe affects the pottery world like few realities have of late. The chart illustrates that 90% of America makes $31,244 annually. After that, 9% make between that $33,244 and $164,647 annually.

I find those numbers to be quite enlightening, especially when I toss them into the salad of these other considerations:

I shouldn’t be TOO surprised by the numbers and the implications that those numbers cast on the reality of making and selling pottery. After all, even when I have done VERY well at several of the biggest art fairs in the country (Ann Arbor and St James Court, for example) out of the 200,000 people in attendance at those shows, when I'm selling extremely well, I will still only sell to maybe 500 of the attendees. That’s 500/200,000 or .25%. That's not 25%. I said “POINT 25%”. That’s only one quarter of a person in every 100 passing by my booth. One quarter of a person is not a very big person. I bet he limps. Or, if he walks normally, I bet he doesn’t have a head, or is missing both of his arms – either of which would make it hard to hand him a bag with his pottery purchase inside. Even if that bag has handles.

Anyway, those are daunting numbers -- but made even more so when considering that the 200,000 people in attendance at those shows were already culled from the general population by their love of arts and crafts in the first place. That means that of a subset of the general population already predisposed to like the arts and crafts, I STILL only appealed to .25% of them. And I was selling more pottery at those shows than nearly every other potter (they used to publish the sales results from those shows, so I know).

I bring up those numbers to come back full circle to my statement about having one foot in the art world and one in the craft world – and not knowing which foot we’re standing on at any one time. I think that those numbers represent the marketing reality that faces most working potters. I believe that most working potters are creating work that will be marketed to the 90% of Americans making $30,000 a year and a better percentage of those in the next, $164,000 category.

So, as potter/craftsmen we have the numbers on our side – the bigger pool in which to market – but we have to face the reality that that pool’s income is going to put severe pressure on our pricing.

I think that the art/potter is marketing to the smaller share of the 9% making the $164,000. I believe this is so because the higher the income, the less likely that the purchase of pottery is going to be made in a direct-from-the-potter relationship.

It is my guess that the very wealthy aren’t even in the equation – they no more buy their own pottery than do they do their own decorating (or buy their own groceries). But I think a large segment of the 9% follow that same model. That is, the greater the income, the more likely that status-seeking will require vetting by the “right” gallery so as to keep one’s social standing intact. Of course we all know exceptions. Bless them.

And as art/potters we fall easily into the model of allowing such vetting. That is, if we come through some academic training, we are very likely to accept an academic and gallery model that we know better from our art textbooks than from the reality of our day to day lives.

And even if we don’t come through the academic training ourselves, the “famous” potters to whom we are exposed by the periodicals we subscribe to are even more intimately part of that academic/gallery/vetted model than we are made aware. Marketing? What…are you kidding?

If we do become vaguely aware of where income connects the ceramic/art world it is in the other ways in which that academic world follows the Old World academic and art world. It is the model of the wealthy patron supporting the arts. It’s almost a peculiarity, the level to which – probably because of our admiration of the particular potters involved -- we overlook the obvious conflict that occurs where this Old World model clashes with the way potters can ACTUALLY make a living in our culture.

Back in the latter years of the ‘80s, Ceramics Monthly ran a couple of interesting articles. The first article was how the NEA distributed grants of $15,000 - $5,000 to some of our fellow potters. I think most of us cheered the awards – given as they were to some of our favorite potters (including my very favorite at the time). We wished them well and I guess we figured that they were playing a game to which we’d all been invited to participate and they'd simply won fair and square.

Then, in a subsequent issue of the magazine one of the most famous potters in America took some small exception to these NEA awards. Oh, he wasn’t arguing principally against the NEA granting such awards for exploration in ceramics that might be hard to finance otherwise – but rather, that these specific potters were the ones being awarded. He was pointing out that among the recipients, a good number were tenured professors whom one might assume already had an income structure in place – not to mention public facility – with which to explore whatever they might wish in the ceramic world.

And, to his point, these awards were not specified toward projects – nor were they even specified as requiring a ceramic project as the end result of the award money. Heck, one recipient was even so bold as to have publicly stated that he put the majority of the award into savings. Another put a roof on his house.

But that’s the art model. The art model (as opposed to the craftsman model) makes no pretense at income derived directly from the finished product (much less upon the sale of that product) – rather, it is dependent upon income derived by any manner in order to pursue one’s art.

But to the extent that this art world DOES depend on the sale of art product it does so on a scale steroidal. Because the available pool in which the whole market swims is so relatively small, it requires a completely different system of values by which to define that product. The marketers become as important as the producers because the value is so often in the presentation.

So why is having at least some perspective on the two worlds of value to the working potter? I don’t know. I think it’s because we working man potters have a tendency to watch those who are participating in the art world and the art market and draw the wrong conclusions about pricing as we try to translate the art world values to the craft world market.

• Because we are playing a numbers game (remember the “appealing to the .25% at the art fairs?) I am almost shocked as I watch fellow potters who are willing to jeopardize their internet marketing presence – the success of which is so heavily dependent upon social network media – by participating publicly in political or religious debate with their facebook and twitter accounts.

The current form of Facebook is an interesting sociological macrocosm -- a study in current human relationships (though a study from which I doubt that concrete conclusions can be drawn). It's the ultimate in realizing how far we've come from a social norm of not discussing religion, politics, or not farting in public places.

Every solipsistic person on the planet feels free to bare his incredibly ignorant soul about any and every controversial subject -- subjects in which the wisely silent who dwell among us hold doctorates (some real, some conferred by life experience).
”In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” - Bertrand Russell

People whom I admire professionally (my facebook page is equal parts musicians and potters) are obviously quite swayed by the opinion mills of the day – boldly making pronouncements transparently forged by hours of Jon Stewart or Rush Limbaugh -- or pop science or pop religion –- or Glenn Beck or Rachel Maddow, than by any serious education. And I’ve no doubt that these people believe that such pronouncements clothe their online persona in great erudition. All the while they are totally unaware of the degree to which they are actually wearing hospital-style gowns and their backsides are hanging out quite unflatteringly.

On the one hand, maybe it’s admirable that those facebook potters wielding political posts believe in something with such conviction that they are willing to say...

“The heck with sales! …I don’t need to appeal to my .25% share of the 50/50 politically polarized population to survive. I can get by while alienating half of my potential customer base. I can survive with only .125% of my share of the pottery-buying public!”

But on the other hand, I’d have to admit that, from my perspective as an admitted life-long politics and theology junkie – there’s just not that many issues that come along in the ongoing public political scene that I believe I’m going to sway the outcome by a facebook post. And if I did choose to so participate, I’m certainly going to run the additional risk of being misunderstood in the mere 500 words Facebook would allow me to voice such an opinion. Maybe it’s short-sighted of me, but I see no upside – only downside – in using the same social media I’m depending on for marketing to air my political views.

Oh, I am a Pottercrat and a Ceramitarian with Guitarican leanings. I have also dabbled in Mandolinia

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fakin' It

Prior to this lifetime
I surely was a potter, look at me...
("Good morning, Mr. Leitch.
Have you had a busy day?")
I own the potter's face and hands.
I am the potter's face and hands and
I know I'm fakin' it

I have again pilfered the hapless John Bauman's (my dad's) password and googleblog site. He is busy working on a super-secret fake ash glaze that he will be firing tomorrow morning. It will be, I am told, totally awesome and stuff.