Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Busy Days of Summer

The past week has been a whirlwind of activity. Something caught my Etsy site on fire a couple of weeks ago, and I can't tell you how thankful I've been for the incredible number of sales.

Well, in response, I've started to wake the site up even more -- uploading several pieces today, in addition to the piece or two I've been putting up each day for the past two weeks.

In today's upload I put the first of my new basket-bowls. Photogenic li'l buggers, if I do say so...

I cooked up a few of these big, round jars at the beginning of August and decided to show a few of them off on Etsy too...

In addition to the Etsy activity, I've been firing the kiln ... actually BOTH kilns every day for the past week of days. Today's the first day in six that I haven't had both kilns going. I'm only firing the glaze kiln right now. Part of the push is (and I'm excited about this) that I'm getting ready for the
Bloominton Indiana 4th Street Festival. This will be my first time trying the show, and I'm hoping to meet lots of new pottery folk down in the southern part of my State.

*****sharp change of subject ahead******

I've been asked how I maintain my Crafthut canopy. I get asked because mine is nearly eighteen years old now, and still looks relatively new -- especially compared to so many other canopies out there at art fairs.

I can't take credit for the shape it's in. Dar has been very faithful to wash it down about 3 or 4 times a year. She used to set the canopy up in the driveway and scrub it down with a floor sponge mop. Then, last year I stumbled upon an idea that works even better.

I now line up 3 regular 36 gallon garbage cans (like Rubbermaid). In the first I disolve an entire tub of Oxyclean in half the barrel of warm water. I start with the top and soak it for a good 20 minutes. Then I step into the garbage can with the canopy and, like Lucy Ricardo stomping grapes, I stomp the sucker clean.

I then move the canopy over to the next barrel -- this one full of clean, cool water -- and rinse it for a few minutes. Finally, I move it over to the third barrel -- yet another rinse of cool clean water.

When I'm done, I put it up on its frame to dry. I stuff clean towels in the corner so that the corner piece metal won't get rust on the newly clean top.

After this treatment, the canopy is as clean as you've ever seen an un-new canopy. Even the white zipper material is brand-spankin'. No kidding.

Oh. And I wear my dirtiest running shoes when I do the canopy stomp. When I'm done, they too look brand new. Gotta love a twofer.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My Photo Studio

Colleen asked if I wouldn't maybe step my camera back a bit and show the set-up I use for photographing my pottery. This will be fun. If anyone has any specific questions after my brief overview, feel free to ask. I've been learning as I go -- learning how to make the pieces look more "present". There's SO much I haven't figured out yet, but I'm getting happier and happier with my results.

First, after several generations of homemade setups (cardboard lightboxes, different light sources, color-corrected film, filters, etc), I HAPPILY took the easy way out about three years ago. I bought an ezcube -- complete with their lighting system.

I would HIGHLY recommend getting the biggest ezcube you can afford. The value in an ability to photograph mulitples, as well as the ability to move the lighting more, cannot be overestimated.

Before I processed the above photos (with photoshop), the set-up with which I started looked much like the image below. You can see the outline of the ezcube. It's sitting on a card table. In the background you can see a sheet of cardboard. It's there because there's a window behind my set-up. My photo studio is lousy with windows and I ended up putting cardboard over all of them. I could NOT get consistant results with even the slightest ambient light leaking through.

I shoot on a graded grey background. This works exceedingly well because one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in shooting pottery with digital equipment is getting good color balance. I'll use an image that came out very badly in the raw form. It was over-exposed from the start, and I couldn't really bring it back to usable, though as you'll see, I can come close.

The grey background simplifies this immeasurably. This is because, no matter how blue the green glazes become -- no matter how brown the red glazed photograph -- if, when processing the image in photoshop you go to Image-->Adjust-->Curves, then in the "curves" pop-up box, choose the "eyedropper" that's in the middle of the three to the right. Then click that eyedropper over the middle of the grey background, you will see the entire image color correct. That's because that center eyedropper corrects the grey to the standard grey. When the grey is correct, all the other colors are too. Magic.

Here I have cropped (I regularly use the cropping tool set to 1000 px X 1000 px. That setting works very well for my Etsy images (I get severe distortion from my camera, so I often have to "stretch" the photo a bit. If you want to know how I do that as well, feel free to ask).

After cropping, here is what the image looks like with the color corrected (but not yet set to a good value). Note how the once purple background snapped into grey, and with it came the green of my glaze...

Next, using Image--->Adjust--->Levels ... I set the levels (value) -- usually I slide the center slider over and darken the image. Next I slide the right had slider to the left to bring up highlights. Essentially, I compress the right hand side of the sliders.

This almost always oversaturates the colors. So the next thing I do is go back to Image--->Adjust--->Hue/Saturation. With the saturation slider I usually go back -11 to -18 and the color comes back to more natural, while remaining true.

The final act in processing is: Filter--->Sharpen. I do this, though it doesn't always do much. I always sharpen the final image -- the final size. If I sharpen the unsized-down image, it doesn't do anything.

Color balance is of UTMOST importance to me. This is because these images are for marketing. Why is that important to me?

...Probably not for the reason one might assume. That is, when I say it's for marketing, I'm not saying that I'm trying to make the most appealing image possible -- though that is true too. What I mean is that every piece I'm shooting, I will at some point be shipping hundreds/thousands of miles at great expense. That means I don't want ANY returns! I don't want anyone to feel as though I misrepresented my pottery in any way. I want them to open the box and see, as nearly as possible, the exact thing they thought they ordered. Make sense?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Can't Be New

My friend, Cheney, said that ever since he got into making movies/film, he’d never again been able to watch a movie the same way – never with the same abandon. From that point on (the point of his education in the art of movie making), every movie viewing became a dissection – how was the lighting done? …were the effects believable or distracting? …how might he have done it differently?

Oh, he still enjoys movies – maybe even more. He enjoys analyzing them as much as he’d ever enjoyed getting lost in the magic of what he didn’t before understand. Still, he wondered if he hadn’t lost something of the magic that his earlier naïveté brought to a movie.

He then asked me if I was able to enjoy pottery – the objects – without going through analyzing, taking them apart, defining them? When I looked at the pottery of other potters, did I more immediately see a pot ... or how it was made? Could I, now knowledgeable and engaged in the business of making pots, any longer see the forest for the trees? Had I eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and been thrown out of Eden?

…okay, I made up that last one. But I got his point. I feel it. But I’m not sure I can answer it directly. At best, today anyway, I might just try a few oblique swipes at near-answers.

First, I think something is lost, but more is gained. Maybe.

But, on the other hand, many craftsmen I know (myself included) would give their right arm (provided one would grow back in its place so that we could continue practicing our craft) just for an instant of being able to view our own work without preconception. We’d like to be capable of seeing our work as others see it.

Then again, if granted that wish, (I think) we’d likely cover our eyes with our hands and, with great trepidation, only sneak a peek through gapped fingers – knowing, as we’ve discovered through the distance of time and experience, that we may not be as pleased with the reality as we are comforted (if deluded) by our intentions and the tunnel vision of seeing only what we want to see -- those parts of the piece that make us believe the endeavor was worth the effort.

Third: Gibson Guitar Company just published (online) a list of “Ten Greatest Instrumentals”. The list – as that kind of list usually is – was silly. But it brought up an interesting side-discussion with my music friends. See, one of the “Greatest Instrumentals” was “Wipeout”. That made many – especially the more accomplished musicians in our circle – groan. “Wipeout”? “Great”? An unflagging, unimaginative drum beat with scant melody line to accompany it….”? Great”?

But, well, yeah. “Great”. Sort of.

I suppose I should have avoided using an example (like “Wipeout”) because maybe the specifics of the example will cloud the point I'm hoping to make. That is, if you think “Wipeout” is a good song, you might continue to listen with an open mind. If, on the other hand, you had a little brother who regularly beat out “Wipeout” on the car dashboard, the kitchen counter, his bed (in the bedroom you shared), the stairway banister as he climbed the stairs…and again when he came back down. In other words, ALL THE TIME…

…anyway, if you had such a younger brother, you may stop listening to the rest of my point, being now stuck on my example (and the fact that it’s now worming itself a permanent residence in your ear). But here’s my second point:

Becoming educated often (ironically) leads to this one horrid ignorance...

... that complexity is the same thing as artistic value – or a successful pot. It's just not. So often (it seems to me) education leads to abandoning the simple as we mistakenly replace artistic expression with intellectual conquests.

  Here’s yet another observation about my education in clay, and how that education may take something away from (rather than add to) my ability to see my work for what it really is: My customers view my work through a different filter than the filter that created it. And their assessment is often a better one than mine. Certainly, at times, more valid.

In a perfect creative world, one would have total recall of the magic and delightful misperceptions that drew them into that creative world in the first place ... and made them want to ultimately de-mystify all that....stuff. Then, given those new tools, gained by that demystification, the process of delighting new initiates might be not only more complete, but maybe more satisfying as well.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Variations On A Theme

I didn't have time to take these upstairs to my photo studio before I rushed out the door to my Wisconsin show last weekend. I apologize for the snapshot quality, but before they sold, I wanted to capture a set of the porcelain bowls I fired last week.

These are 14"-15" diameter, and they fire under 4" posts.

Friday, August 20, 2010

To Don Pilcher, With Love. Heh.

A most EXCELLENT conversation taking place over here at the "Sawdust & Dirt blog of potter Michael Kline. I couldn't help but remember this now famous video about art. So, I'm sending it along to Don Pilcher and the rest of the conversationalists over at Michael's place...



Well, it's obvious that I can talk. And talk. And talk. I like thinking about this craftsman's life I've chosen (or that chose me). And sometimes -- particularly after hours at the wheel with my mind spinning faster than my Pacifica Glyde Torc, I feel the need to get some words down. I write to help me organize my thoughts.

Lately I've had many conversations that circled around the same subject: Is there a new generation of craftsmen out there? ...or has the world evolved enough that an actual change of values has taken place?

And I've had several permutations of this coincidental conversation lately. One was with a fellow from an engineering firm who said that new hires were great with software, but equally great at designing stuff that couldn't be made. His firm concluded that the new hire's schoolin' didn't involve real-life hands-on experience it might take to realize that the things designed by a computer can't actually be made.

Are hands becoming vestigial? Will they someday evolve into a more keypad-user-friendly shape, or can we count on retaining our opposable thumbs so that we can at least still simultaneously grab and hold drivethru burgers and the steering wheel?

Me being involved in the world of craftsmanship, I couldn't help but think of the parallel questions facing us. It is the talk of the pottery world that there seem to be fewer younger people interested in entering this world. If it can't be done while sitting in front of a computer with earbuds in, they aren't interested (so goes the conversation).

And I fear that we've bought the false notion that technology is some sort of evolutionary step forward. But, well...

1) Evolution doesn't step forward or backwards. It just steps.

2) For every step we DO take forward in technology, we lose skills. Sure, some of the skills may be unnecessary (we aren't all very good with horses ever since we got cars....and we aren't very good at working on cars since they became computerized). Still, every once in a while we stumble on a skill that we wish we hadn't let slip. Like politeness, for example.

And, of course, much of this phenomenon is just simply that it is impossible for most people to keep up with the rapid changes that are occurring in every aspect of our lives. I recently spent several hours trying to learn a simple computer task. I can't imagine having the time it would take me to be truly technically savvy on a computer -- all the while keeping up on the changes I should know when wearing my businessman's hat, my marketing hat, my promoter's hat....

It's just crazy. So we end up needing to specialize. But specializing leads to compartmentalizing -- meaning that the guy you deal with is often not the guy who solved the problem with the new process or product, and therefore can't tell you what you need to know about it in order to do YOUR specialized process to the product.

I'm dizzy.

And I think I changed the subject on myself. Twice. Okay, three times.

Oh well, you weren't doing anything today anyway, right?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bein' A Happy Man

Firings have been coming out very well. Lots of color. It makes me anxious for the Oconomowoc art fair this weekend!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Breeze Speaks Out About Slow Days

I, Breeze, have not pilfered John Bauman's computer, password, and blog in a very long time. Especially as marked in dog months. But I am bored today because John is just too darn busy with kilns and wheels and clay and...well....lots of stuff about which I could care less and stuff.

So, here I sit at the computer. I've already played, like, a dozen games of hearts. What's the big deal and stuff?

I play, I win. I play, I win again.

So, in my TOTAL restless boredom, I start going through John Bauman's image files and stuff. Holycowhasjohngotlotsofpicturesofpots!! But he also has lots of pictures of I and Ariel. And in my perusitudinous pursuit, I came across this fearsome visage...

...and it occurred to me that I need to explain myself. Looks notwithstanding, I am a most gentlest of dogs.

I am, like, eighty pounds of ultra soft sponge, soaked in love and good humor. Squeeze me out and I ooze good will and warm feelings. Like a good Barry Manilow song.

...not that Copa Cabana song. That wouldn't work. More like Weekend in New England. But not Mandy. That one was mildly treacly. heh.

oh! I've got it...

not Manilow. Fogleberg! That one about fishes in the oceans and stuff.

Can you imagine if that song collided with Horse With No Name? Drug induced nihilism meets the second coming of boop boop diddum daddum waddum choo. Fishes in the ocean meets plants and birds and rocks and.....wait for it...


Anyways, I'm just an ol' lover. Like those little magnet toys -- the Scotty and the Wheatland terrier -- when their magnetic polarity lines up right they attract each other and then, presumably make boutique mutts and call them, what? ...


So, in short, fearsome visage aside, I am TOTALLY friendly. I can also be bought with moderately large amounts of beef.

I guess I really didn't have much to blog about today. Like John. On his good days. Heh.

* * *

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ceramic Fiber Door, Part II

In yesterday's post I tried to illustrate how I made my ceramic fiber door. At the time, I was firing my new kiln and couldn't show a picture of the door that came out quite well. Here are a couple of pictures of that door from the inside and one from the outside.

Wild Kingdom

I walked outside to check the kiln. There are so many cicadas in the trees these days that I've grown sort of numb to the sound of them. But the buzzing was VERY close to my head, and Breeze even jumped up and ran over to check it out.

It was two insects flying erratically in tandem -- a cicada and a cicada killer wasp. This drama is taking place ten feet outside my shop window as I write this...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Letters, I Get Letters

Just as I hate to have a blog post with no pictures, I also dislike having nothing but ugly pictures to post. So I started this post with a favorite of mine (from a Chieftains album cover).

I got a letter from a blog reader, Ron Ball. Ron is a Canadian who snowshoed his way in from the tundra (Summer -- mid July -- is long past) where he had been milking his herd of Canadian reindeer, eh? Anyway, Ron logged onto his propane-fired computer to write and tell me that he needs to rebuild the soft brick door of his kiln. Ron noticed pictures of my kiln posted here and said to himself, "Eh, that looks like a fiber door on that kiln, eh?"

So he asked me, "Is that a fiber door on your kiln, eh?"

I told him that it was. And then I explained to him the simple, inexpensive way that I built a fiber door on my kiln (a kiln that I too had originally built with a soft brick door). But, at the time of the explaining, I had both kilns in use with firings so I couldn't take any pictures to illustrate to Ron what I was talking about. I've got the newer kiln in use again, but, though the old kiln didn't come out as nice looking (I learned on it), pictures of it will still give you an idea of how I did it.

First, I took inswool ceramic fiber. I chose 1.5 inch -- not very thick -- so that it could most easily be folded.

Working across the bottom of the door first, I folded the wool accordian-style, stabbed the completed folds with these metal cleats, and then fastened the cleats to the door with stainless steel screws and nuts.

So I folded an accordian of wool, stabbed it with a cleat and fastened the cleat to the door. Then I'd make my next accordian, stab it onto the cleats that were then already fastened to the door (the ones holding the first accordian in place). Next, I'd stab the loose side of that accordian with a new set of cleats and fasten those cleats to the door.

This door came out pretty ugly. But the value in showing it is that, ugly as it came out, it's worked well for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of firings.

This is the old kiln from the outside of the door. In this case, you can see where the cleats were bolted to a stainless "skin" that is in turn bolted to the door frame.

On my new, improved kiln, I put angle iron crossbars to fasten the cleats to. It made the door a little neater looking.

To make the folding go a bit easier, and to make sharper folds, I went to the scrap metal yard and found some 4" X 1/8" steel. I forced the steel into each crease and made each accordian a pre-folded unit before I ever tried to stab it onto the cleats.

This morning, instead of our usual run with the dogs, we walked with our friends, Patty and Cecil and their Shar-Pei, "Tank". Tank is rather smitten with Ariel.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Guitarist's Help Hotline

GuitarHelp Hotline

Hello! ...And welcome to the new Guitar Information Hotline! For your convenience we have installed the following menu to aid you in connecting with the right help in answering those tough to answer guitar questions.

If you have questions regarding major chords, please press 1, 3, 5

If your question is about minor chords please press 1, 2 followed by the “pound sign”, then 5 (what? You were expecting maybe a “b” key?)

For questions about the “Nashville Numbering System” please press “0” and ask the operator, and we’ll be happy to send you our Roman numeral keypad set. The cost is $IV.XCIX plus shipping

To direct your questions to our flatpicking experts please press 1,2,3,4,5,6, but do so as fast as you possibly can, keeping your wrist loose and your finger relaxed as you depress the numbers on the keypad. For crosspicking questions the number is 13243546 but should be “dialed” with the same speed as the number for simple flatpicking. As Steve Kaufman would say,
“Keep up now!”

For questions about classical playing please press “2” with your thumb, then follow that with keys numbered 4,5,6 – making absolutely sure that you use only the proper fingers assigned to each numbered button as follows; index finger on the 4, middle finger on the 5, and ring finger on the 6. Make sure each finger follows through each number and comes to rest on the button below the depressed button (for instance, your index finger should depress the 4, and come to rest against the #7 button).

If you wish to inquire about Travis picking press 1,3 with your thumb. Continue pressing the 1 and 3 in this manner while pressing numbers 4, 5, and 6 in a nearly random order.

For questions about electric guitar please press 110.

For questions about playing acoustically – tap the side of your tin can and make sure keep that string taut!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bisquing and Grooving

I kept putting it off. It's hot out there. Loading kilns in 90+ temps is just no fun. But I've been on a producing jag of late and I've got to start getting my ware carts cleared off to make room for more pots.

I started off (as I usually do) with the "new" kiln. It's already eight or nine years old now, but I still use it almost exclusively for bisquing. Pretty li'l thing, though...

Then I moved on and loaded up the ol' gal...

I fire both with natural gas. But unlike lotsa folk who live in residential areas and try (usually with little success) to fire a kiln on natural gas with residential pressure, I've got a real flame thrower. The gas company set me up with a meter that's as big as...as big as...as big as, like, a really big gas meter. (I put that "like" in there so as to relate to my younger readers. I'm still working on putting everything in the present participle tense. Cool. I just did it.)


I've got a two inch gas line leading to both kilns, and I have two pounds of pressure available. I can fire both kilns at once if I so choose.

I'll candle overnight. I've got some huge bowls in there, as well as some 12 pound pumpkins. When I have the luxury of pre-heating large pieces, I invariably take it.

I was going to post my new youtube of the "Hard Times" (Stephen Foster), but I'll save it for later. I'm more excited about a couple of artists I've recently been introduced to. I betcha can't listen to 'em just once!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

In My Van I'm Going To Carolina II

In Friday's mail was my exhibitor's packet from the Western North Carolina Pottery Festival! I got my booth assignment. It looks like I'll be right next to my friend and fellow Hoosier, Larry Spears and just a couple of booths down from my other friend, Michigander Jim Reinert.

Additionally, I'll have the chance to reconnect with Tony Winchester -- a terrific potter who I haven't seen in a few years, and Mike and Karen Baum -- potters from Ohio with whom I've done shows for about thirty years. It was Karen who first told me about this North Carolina festival.
I haven't blogged in nearly a month. The busier-than-usual show season finally caught up with me. By the time the Ann Arbor Art Festival rolled around, I had done eight shows in ten weeks -- too many for a single potter pottery.

I had cannibalized the last of the pottery in my Etsy shop just getting ready for the seventh of those shows (Madison, WI's "Art On The Square" ).

But I had also noticed that readership here had really waned. So I assumed everyone was just as Summer-busy as I. But the packet from the North Carolina show gave me something to post about...so I'm waking up this blog.

It's been a VERY productive three weeks. The day after I got back from Ann Arbor I went right down to Indianapolis to pick up some Coleman porcelain from Brickyard Ceramics.

As luck would have it, my friend, Bob Reiberg, had ordered a full ton, but had come to re-think that order, and wished that he hadn't ordered so much (It is EXTREMELY expen$ive!). This came up in conversation over dinner, late one Ann Arbor evening. I quickly jumped on it. His over-buy was my chance to split the ton with him. We both won in the deal.

And this batch of porcelain is GREAT. The last ton I got was so hard that it literally bounced off the wedging table as I tried to prepare it. The thought of doing anything large with it was pretty much out of the question. But this batch is perfect -- soft enough to wedge even 15 lbs at at time/stiff enough to stay put. Wonderful stuff, really.

I started right out making some larger bowls that I'd been putting off for most of the year. I've missed having them on my display. Here's a few of the 25 I threw the first day with the new clay...

I've also been out of porcelain pitchers since the third of those eight shows. I did a number of them with my new textured rims, and the shapes came out very much to my liking...

I've sadly been out of my acorn-topped casseroles too. These caught me off guard this year. I started the year with a very large number of some of the very best ones I've ever fired....and they didn't sell as expected. Hmmm. First time ever, and I never did figure out why. But then, suddenly I turned around one day (at my fifth show) and realized that I was out of them. They had been selling. I just wasn't selling the 10 or so per show that I had expected. Here are just a few of the new ones waiting to be bisqued...

Meanwhile, I'm also busily making the pumpkins I'll need for the next several shows. I started with the very large ones (12 lbs) -- made a dozen of those -- and then the same day I made a dozen of the next size down (the two quart casseroles).

As nice as the new batch of porcelain is -- as with any porcelain -- the bowls require some extra care in drying. Here's a shelf with some of the bowls -- their rims wrapped in plastic to allow their centers to dry first. If I don't do it this way, the bowls will more than likely (probably greater than 75% chance) crack in the center. Wrapped, I rarely lose one...

On the music front: I've been working on a new arrangement of "Hard Times (Come Again No More)" -- the Stephen Foster song. I've just about settled on some musical ideas I really like and in the next week or so, I'll probably upload a video.

I hope in all your busy-ness the Summer's been treating you all well. I hope to see some of you at Okonomowoc in a few weeks, Bloomington in about a month, Louisville in about two months, and, of course, Dillsboro, NC at the beginning of November.

I'll sign off with a little fingerpicking...