Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bowl Central

about 1/4 of the bowls of my latest project

The title for this post is "Bowl Central". The subtitle is "When Will He Ever Learn?"

The sub-sub-title is, "Quite Apparently, Never"

"Do you take orders, Mr Bauman?"

For more than 25 of my 30 years as a potter, my answer has always been an automatic "No". I don't take orders. I never take orders. My system is hardwired and my negative reply is now as automatic to me as is drooling at the smell of bacon....."NO, I DON'T TAKE ORDERS" you can imagine my surprise at me that I always end up taking an order or two.

This year it has been a back-breaking undertaking of 44 14"-16" porcelain bowls. And not just any porcelain bowls, but the porcelain bowls that I have to burnish on the inside as well as trim on the outside. If I don't burnish the inside, I don't get this effect:

Anyway, the throwing portion of the cycle is complete. Unless it's not. If I fire 'em and they don't all come out, then it's back to the wheel. Such is the nature of orders (and a hint as to why I don't take them).

I got to thinking about orders once. It was more than 25 years ago -- back when I used to take orders. In fact, back then I had seven pages of orders -- seven pages, single-spaced type (kids, I am referring to an honest-to-god typewriter. Yes, I had one. Now get off my lawn). Anyway, I had all these orders and the sinking feeling in my gut that told me that the best approach to these orders was to go out, get into my '66 Buick Skylark, do NOT fasten my safety belt, and drive like hell.

There was no way out. It was like the quicksand in a Tarzan TV show -- the one with Ron Ely, not Johnny Weismuller. I'm not that old.

Oh, shut up.

Anyway, no Tarzanian quicksand ever had more suck than seven pages of orders pulling me down into its depths....and certain death.

But I did wonder....

I couldn't help but notice that sometimes....maybe once in every 30 or 40 orders...rather than being the one pot in the kiln that did NOT survive the firing looking as it was supposed to look (like, without cracks or kiln niz falling into the center of it) ... instead, one out of 30 or 40 ordered pots actually came out BETTER than the rest of the firing.

Since I knew that it was my luck that dictated the 29-39 usual-case failures of orders to survive the firing, it FINALLY dawned on me what the exact nature of the dynamic was that I was witnessing. I finally understood what was the overarching law of nature that was ruling my firing of pots that were orders...


...It was that one out of 30-40 people who ordered from me actually had luck that was SO good that it even had the power to override my bad luck.

This is science, folks. You can't make this stuff up. Well, you can. But I'm not. Really. It's statistics. Or did you miss the obvious? ...30, 40, 1, and 2, are all numbers. And numbers don't lie. Fact.

Anyway, with each dive into the quicksand, I learn a few new lessons. This dive taught me that I've got some pretty cool tools that I never realized were made for pottery. First, years ago I bought a Craftsman shop-vac. The cool thing about this shop-vac is that the motor is detachable from the canister and can be used as a blower. The way this comes in handy is at the trimming wheel.

When a potter has to trim the INSIDE of a shallow bowl or plate, the trimmings don't escape on their own. There are no little Steve McQueen trimmings riding little motorbikes and jumping over the rim of the bowl to freedom. Instead, what happens is turn after turn of accumulated trimmings re-attaching themselves to the area the potter (me) just smoothed out. If I were the type to gEt ANgrY oR FusTratEd or eVEn a LitTLe, yoU KnOW, CRAzY.....this is exactly the kind of thing that might push me over the edge. Yeah, like I'm not over it anyway. Shut up again.

Anyway, enter the shop-vac. Or, I might say "Enter the shop-blo". I clipped the shop-vac motor to a ware cart right next to my trimming wheel. As I trimmed, it blew. Like magic, or at least like magic that blows really hard, no trimmings accumulated. Smooth bottoms, no re-attached trimmings.

Another cool and indispensible tool around the Bauman pottery is my wand blender. For 34 years of pottery making, I have always covered my pots with slip. I've slip-trailed, slip-stenciled, slip-masked, brushed slip, combed slip, feathered slip, colored slip. And I can't even imagine doing all that without a wand blender. I've also found that nothing beats a Hamilton Beach blender for working with slip. It can make porcelain slip from dry porcelain scraps in less than a minute -- smooth, and virtually bubble-free. Many wand blenders I've used don't move the slip enough and require about as much stirring as blending. Some introduce so much air into the slip that it's really difficult to trail a smooth line without the trailing tool burping at inopportune times. Not so the Hamilton Beach. Smooth, airless slip every time.

So there's my expose on the shop tools that are not shop tools but are indispensable shop tools, nevertheless.

Here's a sneak preview of my next, newest item...


  1. Bowl a rama!
    I was talking about bowls today and how I like making them but never do. I do burnish a lot of clay though!

  2. Luck transfer is a good theory after you throw out repetition, practice, and the blind hog theory.That glaze effect looks like a bowl full of fire.Thanks for sharing.

  3. I like the no orders theory myself but can we stick to it? No, like a bug to the flame we dive right to it.
    Yes, I say I can reproduce that 1 mug you broke out of your set you bought 25 years ago. Even though I do not make that design anymore..... shoot me now- made them and they are darn good seconds!
    We take no upfront money for orders- kiss of death for us.
    I understand all your lingo- does that date me? Now get the he*l off my lawn, shaking my fist....

  4. PS: I used to have nightmares about the Tarzan quicksand when I was a kid :)

  5. That luck transfer probably explains the success of my most recent order. I typically make half again or twice as many pots as the order just to compensate for my normal disasters, but this time all 36 pots came out just fine and included 8 that were better than anything similar I had ever fired. Sure couldn't have been my luck ruling that. Thanks for clearing that up!

  6. Dennis and Carter,

    I'm glad that my scientifical stuff wasn't over everyone's head. I run the risk and stuff that when I get to talking technical things and stuff, that I will lose my readershipness peoples and things. Not everyone has our appreciation of imp pyrical science.


    Pass the Ben Gay.


    I hope you didn't thrash about in your sleep during your nightmare. You do understand that that only makes you sink faster?

  7. LOVE the HB stick blender - ABSOLUTELY indispensable for small amounts of glaze for glaze tests - no screening needed! Cool idea about the shop vac for those annoying clay crumbs. Thanks for sharing the tip. Steve McQueen trimmings??? Heh, heh.

  8. Orders are the pots that WILL go wrong!!
    That is a beautiful bowl. It is strange sometimes, one can do a long run of one shape, and one will just stand out.

    Stick blenders are good. I wonder if that one doesn't put air in because of the holes in the sides- there are enough of them!