Thursday, August 10, 2017

Outside Looking In

My friend, Jeff Miller, made this comment during a discussion last year: 
"If you find yourself thinking that the only possible explanation for someone else's perception that differs from your own is based on their having a negative framework (ie, "racist", "sexist", "hateful", etc.), you have more than likely inadvertently absorbed a piece of perceptual framework that someone else has planted in you in order to manipulate you.

As a general proposition, start with the assumption that everyone is operating from a perspective of positive intentions, even if doing so violates your framework. Even if you are wrong (and you very well may be), the result is positive". -Jeff Miller

I found it apt and I think about it often as social media constantly offers up propositions I don't think I agree with. It's very hard (as Jeff suggests) to afford the alien point of view the benefit of the doubt that they are wishing for the same or better outcome as I wish for -- instead of retreating to a safe zone of demonizing them so I don't have to listen.

I try to ask myself if I can find ANY way that I might find points of agreement with the alternative pov. Said another way -- am I absolutely sure I even know what they are saying? Do I fully understand their pov? Could I describe it back to them accurately and without prejudice?

And I try to ask myself if it is really logical to believe in demons? -- That is, I try to ask myself if this (for instance) social media meme presenting me with a demon is as likely to be a true characterization of its target...

... as it might be to instead assume better of that person/target and, from there, figure out what that person/target is really saying?

Sunday, August 6, 2017


This is what I ultimately came up with.

It's hard to convince yourself to leave well enough alone with only a few pots because part of you keeps niggling at you telling you that some juror is going to see pots on the display that sway him/her in a way that the individual images did not.

That makes SO little sense that it's hard to believe it holds any sway when composing a booth slide, but it does. I think it might do so because most shows ask for SO few individual images. I wish all shows would ask for 7-10 images of individual work.

I do believe there is a HUGE range of options for presenting images that are still honest while not strictly journalistic. That is, we all know that the images we present need to be visually interesting in and of themselves.

Sure, many of us still try to make the images visually interesting and still honest, but the reality is that most images that get potters into the A shows don't really represent the pot as seen in a real-life 3D situation.

Part of the reason for those dolled-up, super-dramatically lit, high-contrast, overly-saturated images is an attempt at compensation. That is, we are only TOO aware of the disadvantage with which we are saddled when presenting 3D work in a 2D format. So we understandably compensate.

I know potters whose work I don't recognize when I peruse the online images of Cherry Creek, Des Moines, St Louis, Fort Worth, etc. But I understand why they present the images they do. Quite often, as good as their work might be, it's simply too subtle to present journalistically. 

Someone suggested the idea of shooting one side only as if in the booth. I've often thought of that. I've come to believe that there are two basic reasons a booth image is required: 1. To see if the individual images are really representative of the body of work, and 2. To envision what the booth might look like as viewed at a show (will it fit in with the rest of the exhibitors?)

If the only question being asked by the jury, relative to the booth image was #1, then a partial booth would not only serve the purpose, it would arguable do so even better than a full booth.

But if #2 is the primary reason for the booth image, then the partial booth won't work.

I wish a show would state their purpose for a booth image. If they did then a potter could equip himself with either/or booth images, depending on the show.
I do kinda wish  (I say with great regret. Yesterday's attempt took all day) that I had taken a few shots with only a few pieces on the shelves.

Maybe I ought to pay a photoshop master to take the pots off the shelves via digital magic. 

 When I've sat on juries I've noticed how much I depend on the booth shot to tell me the real story. I'm not nearly so seduced by hot single image shots as I am turned off by horrid booth shots.

Pottery booth shots taken at shows are quite often terrible. Even if the potter has taken the time to "neaten things up a bit". The lines are crooked, the wrong things show, and the lighting is usually bad.

I know I should score them high points for integrity, but I admit that I don't.

And I was just getting ready to get on a soap box about how we artists owe it to each other to show up at art fairs with the best looking booths we can manage. When we let our booths lapse -- need to be repainted, Pro-Panels frayed and shabby, canopy no longer even close to white, assembly wobbly and off plumb... we aren't just hurting our own chances at that art fair -- we're hurting every other artist at that show.

That's how art fairs work at their best. We artists trade on the work, weight, and reputation of all the other artists in that show. We owe it to each other to clean up our acts.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

John Wilts Booth

I had a beautiful day to work outdoors. A project that has been on my mind now for a few years, I finally have the perfect day to accomplish.

Except I don't.

The sun is making too much contrast. I can't get the lighting right -- even with my studio lights in front filling in.

I don't like this task anyway. I'm relatively comfortable with the rest of my jury images. The booth shot has always made me edgy.

Art fairs don't really want potters. Art fairs want artists. That makes sense. But I'm a potter and I know it and I don't intend not to show it.

But the only way I'm going to get a booth shot that won't keep me out of the A shows (rather than scoring them every once in a while) is to start taking stuff off the booth and re-shooting.

Making a booth shot is principally different from setting up for a show. Setting up for a show I go through the boxes of pots and say "Oh!....I love that one. I'll put it out" followed by "Oh!....I love that one. I'll put it out" followed by "Oh!....I love that one. I'll put it out" etc.

Making a booth shot I should be saying, "That might be one of the twelve pieces I put out to make the display look as gallery-like as possible." Any more than that and I start to look like a potter.

It's editing. Everyone could use an editor. 'Specially me.

Here the clouds rolled in and allowed for a little better lighting.  I removed about a dozen pieces but it still looks like a pottery.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


I work almost daily with a very talented young sculptor from the Czech Republic.

His English is better than my Czech like, say, a bird is a better flier than a pig. But by the end of the day I end up speaking and thinking -- not Czech, but Czech-like.

Some of the quirky linguistic adaptations he makes as he translates his thoughts into my language roll 'round and 'round in my mind -- both the way they sound and often the significance of meaning intended and unintended.

For instance (and my favorite): "Dis moment"

When Misha (the young sculptor) and I are talking about a piece we're working on together, he will point at the curve of a pot's shoulder, or the turning of its foot and say, "Dis moment will make shadow below..." or "Dis moment here sit well, make stable base..."

"Dis moment"

I found myself wondering at the words he must be thinking about, and the hows and whys that led him to translate words that probably intend to mean "this passage" or "this part" or "this section".

"Dis moment".

I'm sure it was arrived at as a sort of parallel. A moment is a defined part of time just as the shoulder of the pot is a defined part of that whole. Just as the foot is a defined part of that whole.

"Dis moment"

I like it. My mind expands on it. I imagine the lovely thought that the moment in time that I conceived and made permanent the curve of a shoulder or the arc of a handle or the geometry of a trimmed foot...

...some future user of that pot will relive that moment in dawning realization. They'll "get" the inspiration I had for that shoulder. They'll understand the reasoning behind the foot. They'll feel the intent in the arc of that handle -- each of those moments relived and translated....

....from the intention of my mind, to the work of my hand, to the perception of the end user -- all in a shared moment.

A shared moment. Time and time and time again. For the life of the pot, from the life of the potter, to the life of the user.

Dis moment.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Getting Ready

I don't much care for turning my blog into a simple photo share, but I've been having really good firings getting ready for my show in Minnesota next weekend.  Here's the kiln load I opened last night.

carved vase, radially carved bowl

Oak leaf carved two quart pitchers

utility crocks carved and stamped

oval top bakers, slip trailed, carved, and stamped

carved 2 quart casseroles with thrown acorn knobs

slip-trailed casseroles, 2 quart

radially carved bowl 14"

carved handled bowl 15"

carved handled bowl 15"

herringbone carved handled bowl 14"

Sunday, July 16, 2017

First Firing For Minnesota

July 16 opening. This is the first of seven firings of pots I'll be taking with me to the Minnesota Pottery Festival.

Encouraging: It's the best cone 10 firing I've had all year.

The Standard 182G I got in a few weeks ago is not only bubble-free, the Millring Red glows on it.

The Albany glaze it a pleasing gold with orange undertones and black rivulets. Nothing cloudy at all.

The new carving tool makes the imagery pop 3D even more than it used to.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Doors Flung Wide

Taking advantage of the weather to glaze in and outdoors today. It triples my table space, gives me lots more shop room, the wind dries the glaze on the pots, and the wide open door allows flies free entry to my shop. 

Flies in the pottery
Shoo fly, shoo
Flies in the pottery
Shoo fly, shoo
Flies in the pottery
Shoo fly, shoo
Little suckers bite, too, darn it.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Orchard Talk

I asked her, “Do you listen to your daughter’s music? …or she, yours?”

Suddenly she got a very knowing look on her face.

It’s a discussion that, as someone interested in human behavior, fascinates me. And as someone trying to make a living doing something creative, it interests AND confounds me.
One might be able to find exceptions, but as a rule it's improbable as an artist to appeal to a generation other than one's own.

I don't know if it's hormonal or experiential. But it's true. 

And since the market is the demographic most likely to spend money on the creative efforts, it becomes an almost impossible task to find enough market in a demographic that has moved on. The low hanging fruit is only available to the young.

There was a band or a songwriter (I don't remember the details as well as I remember the story) in Europe that, realizing this reality, hired a front band so they could continue to sell their music. If that effort was successful, at least it would indicate a hope for a possibility that the artistic product CAN, in fact, be successfully divorced from the producer for the purposes of marketing.

I once presented a thought experiment to a group of fellow art fair craftsmen: “What do you think would happen to art fairs – within, say, 5 years – if all older craftsmen were fronted by younger representatives successfully and completely ACTING AS US?

Would art fairs be meaningfully reinvigorated, or is it also inherent to that generation that they have no interest in that kind of market (where they have to walk around outdoors and actually meet artist/craftsmen face to face.)?

You may point out that there are, indeed, artists and craftsmen that DO appeal across generation. You might even list some such artist/craftsmen. 

Well, I could opine that the reason you can create such a list is because they stand out for their rarity. 

But the reality is more perverse than that. I'm not saying there's NO cross-generational market. I'm saying that when you're cross generational, the market diminishes. That's a completely different, far more dangerous situation (dangerous from the standpoint of sustaining a business or life-sustaining income from it).

The perversity is that when the low-hanging fruit is gone, and you're stuck with either going back to the barn to get a ladder or climbing out on a thin limb to continue harvesting....that's when you're forced into making the most precarious, often stupid and/or desperate economic choices.

Add to that the vagaries of taste and fashion and you're getting a better picture of the orchard.

But another way of looking at the whole thing: 

I think that the "obligate artist" is the one bound for the most personally satisfying artistic existence. If what he's interested in happens to also coincide with what his culture is also interested in, and he has the skill to echo those thoughts back to the culture, he's going to most likely be financially rewarded. And if what he's interested in doesn't coincide with his culture's interests, he'll at least still be content with his pursuit -- even if as an amateur.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


When John Millring was a little baby
Sittin’ on his mammy’s knee
He picked up some stoneware and
He slammed it on the wheel and cried,
“Clay is gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
Yeah, pottery’ll be the death of me”

Now the captain said to John Millring
“We’re gonna bring a ram press ‘round
I’m gonna bring that ram press
Into the potter’s world
I’m gonna knock out pots -- cheap will abound, Lord, God
I’m gonna press out cheap pots by the pound”

John Millring said to the captain
“Lord, a man ain’t nothin’ but a man
But before I let that
Ram press beat me down
I’m gonna die, a spinnin’ wheel beneath my hands, Lord, Lord
I’ll die with wet clay slippin’ through my hands”

John Millring was a-turning on the right side
That ram press was pounding on the left
“Before I let your press
Fill this world with stodgy pots
I’ll center and pull myself to death, Lord, Lord
I’ll turn’n’burn my pottin’ self to death”

Well the captain said to John Millring
“What? that a storm I hear?”
John Millring said, “Nope,
That ain’t no storm out there
That’s just my spinning wheel turnin’ ware, Lord, Lord
That’s my mighty kick wheel a-suckin’ air.

Now the captain demanded that they measure
Just to see who might be behind
John Millring done already
Throwed twenty-seven pots
The ram press was only up to number nine, Lord, Lord
The ram press had jus’ barely finished nine

Mid the heat of the contest, John heard music
With the volume knob dialed up real good
Then he grabbed a hundred pounds
That he centered good’n’sound
And threw a crock to hold a cord of wood, Lord, Lord
He winked and said “I did that just because I could.” 

John Millring, he kept a-makin’ thrown ware
But, y’know, the press, it kept a-makin’ too
Maybe you can’t tell the difference?
Well, some folks know what’s good
There’ll be pottery a-plenty for you too, Lord, Lord
Yeah, mass-produced or hand-turned’s up to you

Friday, July 7, 2017

Storm Suite

A beautiful, big, black storm has just rolled into town. At first I watched in awe and fascination out the back door of my shop as the darkness coming from the west completely overtook the light of morning. It's now an anachronistic midnight outside.

I can't concentrate on work with all that wonderful drama going on outside so I walked back over to the front door -- away from the windward side that would blow the now considerable rain into the shop -- and stuck my head out the door and watched.

But as I opened the door to watch....incredible. A redbird is out there in the midst of the bluster, and he's singing. He's singing his heart out. Beautiful.

So now here I sit at my desk with the window beside me thrown wide open. I'm listening to a most unique storm suite -- a natural symphony -- the sound of rain ripping through leaves, thunder rolling a bass line and irregular rhythm section, and a redbird carrying the incongruously cheerful melody line throughout.

And now it's tapering as the thunder rolls into the distance. The rain has dropped from its crashing crescendo to a quiet, steady waterfall....but on and on the redbird sings.

It's better than television.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Living Still

I've always enjoyed the monochromatic world of a shop filled with leather hard pottery. But land a few things of color and the stark contrast is eye-popping. Last year I did a series with Koolaid glasses and pots. This summer the fruit is in season and color. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting An Aerial View

Etsy only allowed me to enter a different market. It didn't earn me more money. It actually added up to the lessening of my overall annual income. It isn't even physically possible for me to make as much from Etsy and art fairs combined as it was for me to make from art fairs alone.

Etsy isn't nearly as efficient a market as art fairs are. Especially for potters, though I think that statement is pretty generally true.

The internet demands more time wearing the marketing hat. Far more time. It happens to require a skill set I seem to have naturally, but it takes time away from my production. And whether I market through Etsy OR art fairs, the single biggest determinant of my annual income is my production -- how much pottery I make.

I'm not resistant to change. I'm doing it. I'm changing. I market via the internet because I can and because I'm pretty good at it, and because my pottery is better suited to that market than most other potter's seems to be (even after a couple of years not really trying, I'm still in the top 100 Etsy sellers of pottery -- and the ones ahead of me are item-makers, not potters).

No, my point isn't about what I want to be doing or whether I'm willing to change with the times. That's why I said my point could only be contemplated in the abstract -- we can't go back. The internet isn't going to disappear. But that doesn't mean that I don't recognize that the internet brought on the current state of the art fairs. It took away every good reason to buy at art fairs -- or, at least, it took away the greatest impulses that caused art fairs to prosper so.

There isn't a thing we could have done about it to have halted it. The world is moving on and we'll all be trying to figure out new formulas. I'm working for someone else. I've contemplated offering workshops and had a few promising but false starts with that (right when I took the current job I had three national workshops ask me to present). So, timing is everything and maybe some day those kinds of offers will occur when I'm not similarly committed. I've changed the pots and am continuing to explore lower kiln temps.
My gut feeling is that when the dust settles, few artists of the kind we've grown up with (and as) will make their/our living from the internet other than as some sort of PR tool.

The music industry has been pretty decimated by the whole thing. But it's turning music back to its roots -- performing and creating. Nobody's getting rich selling recordings, but now many people are making a living (or nearly so) as performers.

I think the answers to our future haven't really been seen or defined yet. In losing the art fairs we've lost:

1. Impulse buying -- one of the strongest motivations for buying at art fairs was the inherent understanding that the purchase of this item was a now or never chance. And if they didn't buy it then, they were even MORE driven to not let the chance pass them by the NEXT year.

Now they contact via the internet. Except that they don't. They take a card and they are ABSOLUTELY DETERMINED they will contact you when they are ready to buy....but to the tune of about 99%, they don't. Out of sight out of mind.

2. Shared gravitas -- we were a stronger market as a unit than we were as individuals. As a potter in an open art fair market, every patron naive to the intricacies of pottery nevertheless was able to pass SOME judgement of the value of my work because it was set side by side with the fine photography of a Don Ament, the superlative display of jewelry put forth by a Bonnie Blandford, or the winsome and whimsical art of a Julie Kradel. The patron may not have known pottery, but if I was in with THIS crowd, then my pottery must have been of similar value. Which brings me to...

3. Gatekeepers. We hate 'em. But they were the ones who told the world that we were valuable. When we got into Fort Worth, St Louis, Cherry Creek, Artisphere, or the Garage Sale Art Fair :) ....the public knew we had been granted a pretty meaningful stamp of approval. We were safe to buy from or we wouldn't have gotten there in the first place.

We can't get ANY of that from the internet. None. In fact, we are as inclined to live and mostly die by the cynicism and skepticism inherent in social media that is more tribal than any societal mechanism know, TRIBES. Hell, we don't disagree with anyone anymore. We hate them. The internet is poisoned. And there's no going back on that one either. To try is, ironically, to embed oneself even DEEPER in tribalism.

And yet we're naive enough to the problem to actually share our political view points on the internet....totally oblivious to the fact that we've just alienated half of our potential audience. Yes, maybe your tribe will reward you for confirming their biases. Good luck with that.

I think our future as artists resides in the 3D world. I don't know what that looks like right now. Maybe it looks like a 20-year-old entering an art fair for the first time, willing to learn.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

I Think That I Shall Never See A Copy Of A Potter's Family Tree

Wonderful post by Tony Clennell. 

A few years ago I tried to figure out a way to come up with a potter's family tree. It's something I think about often. 

I realize it's impractical -- most of our pedigrees as potters are a mix of formal and informal education -- informal passing of information. And much of what -- in other potter's work -- influences our work may or may not even be their intent. Nor ours.

Nevertheless, I suspect that most potters are connected by some few-degrees-of-separation in terms of influences. And that fascinates me. 

It fascinates me when I see something familiar in the work of a potter I've never met. Sometimes I can trace the mutual influence. Sometimes it's nothing more than a common solution to a common problem -- there was simply no more logical way for the both of us to have solved the problem. Lids just fit better that way. Feet just set better that way. Handles are just more comfortable that way.

But I betcha it's often a common pottery ancestry. Often.

Years ago a friend gave me a boxed set of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. It came with a cool fold-out poster -- a family tree of where CSN&Y came from -- Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Hollies -- and what had sprung from seeds they'd sown -- Poco, Manassas, Firefall, Eagles, etc. The family tree filled up the entire large poster with VERY small print. I read it by the hour.

I imagine one for pottery. When I buy a boxed set of pots from, say, Dick Lehman, it comes with a poster. I unfold the thing and see that he came from Marvin Bartel, and from him sprang Eric Strader, Mark Goertzen, Tom Unzicker, etc.

I like the idea.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

...And You Hang On Real Tight

He thought about hope. It was a sort of obsessive, recurring thought. Hope.

Like when he was very young and used to daydream about the flying trapeze. He’d only been to the circus once. But he’d seen Disney’s “Toby Tyler”. He couldn’t imagine anything more perfect than the swing, the lift, the release, the flips. Over and over.

When he was a teen he traded up for a new obsession – not about the game of basketball, but about the perfect release of the perfect jump shot. The image circled his brain like a cerebral gif. Over and over. The tips of fingers feel the seam. The flick of the wrist. The follow through. The back spin. 

Over and over.

And throughout both those life chapters, images of fingers on guitar entered his brain unbidden. They were just there. Always. Chord changes. Fingerpicking patterns. Over and over.

As he got older -- and approached old -- those unbidden thoughts circled around hope.

Thirty years before he had heard a haunting story. A woman from his small town left the local hospital having just received a terminal diagnosis. No hope. Months. Maybe. She drove from the hospital, down Arthur Street and into Center Lake. She didn’t even try to stop for the cross street. Somehow she made it across the usually busy street and the parking lot beyond. She hit the seawall and launched directly into the drop-off depth of the lake. She never even tried to open the un-openable doors. Inevitable is inevitable.

He couldn’t grasp it. His life’s hold on reality was always tempered with excessive, preposterous optimism.  Over and over.

Something would happen. Something would change. Rescue was around the bend.

But he was a born cynic and skeptic. No, really. In all other cases but the unbidden dreams, daydreams – the palpable expectations for the improbable – he was hard-edged.

Not about this.

He admired the hopeless. He admired the clear-eyed vision of the realist. He admired it, but he couldn’t be it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Firing June 7, 2017

How often (if ever) do you find that you like the back side or the foot of a piece of pottery as much as you like the more prominent, more obviously visible parts -- the front, the top?  I know it happens to me occasionally.

I've made shallow bowls for more than thirty years now, but about twenty years ago I had an epiphany.  See, up to that point I had always finished the back sides of the bowls -- trimmed and footed them neatly and all.  I was taught well. A well finished foot matters.  

But I had never decorated the backsides.  After all, the bowl was virtually flat -- virtually plate-like.  Why would a fella decorate what isn't seen?

Then one Winter, Dar bought me one of Mark Nafziger's bowls for a Christmas present.  I admired the beautifully detailed slip-trailed face of the bowl and I was smitten.  Dar had picked me a beauty.

....and then I turned it over.

Mark decorates the back side of his bowls.  I had my answer.

"Why would a fella decorate what isn't seen?"

Because it is seen.  It's seen in the handling of it.  And there's a pleasure to be had in such a hidden detail.  It's almost like a message from the potter to the final owner.  Every time that owner flips the bowl over to look at that hidden detail, it's like the potter gets one more chance to smile and say, "Made you look, didn't I?"

I decided I liked the rightness in that.  I decided I liked the whimsy in that.

I decorate the backs of my bowls.

And now twenty years on, Mark's bowl still speaks to me.  Front AND back.

 I like this casserole as much as any I've ever made -- and I was fortunate enough to have 4 nearly identical ones in this firing (the one on the left was in the hot spot).

...ditto with my good luck on these jars.  The oribe on the acorns is iridescent.

This is the first of its kind -- different shape in the stoneware.  I'll be repeating the idea -- though I think I'll use a smaller acorn for the thumb rest.