Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Tis the Season

It's snowing.....

The garden's asleep.....

All my Christmas Sales and Shows are done.....

All my Christmas orders have been picked up or will be very soon.....

I'm planning my annual Christmas Party....

Sending gift certs to the offspring.....

Debating whether Husband can stand another new shirt.....

Dreaming about new glaze colours, new forms..... maybe I'll finally perfect that butter dish for a full pound of butter.....

Maybe 2011 will be the year I actually build up a healthy stock of pots to sell instead of always being about 6 weeks behind....

As Harvey here says:

'Tis the Season!

Hope Yours is a Merry One!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rutile Colours

Well, turns out there's more to getting a nice soft yellow than just chucking some Rutile into a white glaze!

I thought it would be easy. I've got a bucket of yellow glaze kicking around and all I can really remember about it is that I made it by adding some Rutile to my basic white glaze. Easy, right? But it was a lot darker than what the customer wants, so I thought I'd easily get the right shade by just adding less Rutile. I got a real shock when I opened the kiln, though! The tests were pink! A melon or peach-ish pink, but definitely pink.

Only one thing to do: ask Clayart for help.

Happily, they came through. Several people posted a reply to the effect that Rutile can indeed, in the presence of enough calcium, produce pinks. Others reminded me that Rutile can contain Tin, and that Tin plus Chrome can produce pinks. And yes, the kiln load must have had some chrome vapour in it during the firing, as I had used a dark red Mason stain to paint some maple leaves on a few plates. One person suggested doing a short line blend with Red Iron Oxide.

Here are the results.

Hopefully, if the colour balance is accurate, you can see the pink. The tiles with RIO are, as I expected, shades of brown, with a greenish cast. A little too much like Baby Product #2 for my liking! The tiles with RIO and Rutile are a nice toasty colour, I rather like the darkest one.The last row of tiles, using a small amount of Rutile and varying the RIO are about the closest to what I want. The middle one will probably be what the customer wants.


And, Thank You, Clayart!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Glaze Game

Somebody once told me to make all my lids for certain things the same size, and to keep any that didn't fit because then I'd have lids for any pieces whose made-for-them lids didn't fit. This same person also threw over 60 casseroles and didn't think about lids until the next day and when she made 60 lids we had hardly any that fit anything but that's another story. Anyway, I have quite a few lids of various sizes kicking around and sometimes if I have a piece with a lid that doesn't quite fit I go through the stockpile to see if there is one that will work. I call this the Lid Game and it's great fun on the rare occasions that I actually score.

This week Poor Helper has had the unenviable task of sorting out the many buckets of odd glazes that have been clogging up the space under the work tables. I have a bad habit of just adding some stain or oxide to a bucket full of one of my regular glazes and doing some project and then having half a bucket of whatever colour left over. Then I just slap a lid on (if I can find one, of course) and shove it under the table. Sometimes I remember to dip a tile so I have a visual reminder but not always. It was getting hard to walk around with all these buckets sticking out all over the place.

Turned out there were 28 buckets of Guess-the-colour glaze.

Poor Helper added water to the ones that had dried up and left them to soak overnight, and then started sieving each one and dipping test tiles of both the white and the buff clays. She numbered the buckets and the tiles, using duct tape to write on for the buckets, which is brilliant because I had been scrawling a number or name on the bucket, which meant that after I had screened the glaze into another bucket I no longer had a clue as to what it was but now we can, at least in theory, move the duct tape to the new bucket. If you think that's bad, I once started 50 or so herbs from seed in little plastic bakery containers and wrote the names on the lids. It wasn't long before they came up so I removed the lids to give them air and room..... yup, 50 sets of seedlings with no names. You can see that administration is not my long suit.

The test tiles showed some duplicates or near duplicates - we even had three of a certain teal colour - so we were able to put those together and reduce the number of buckets somewhat. Now there are only 19.

Warning! This is what can happen if you don't watch those dibs and dabs of oddball glazes!

I'm thinking planters, vases and maybe some mugs with only their outsides dipped into these cool colours. An excuse to play!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Butter Pots

What a dummy I am!  I've often had customers ask me for 'French Butter Dishes'. They have always, ALWAYS, explained that these are great for keeping your butter cool on the table. I have also always said I don't make them, but I never admitted it was because I just couldn't see how they could possibly keep the butter cool and I didn't want to sell them something and get it back because it didn't work. Besides, they're fiddly to make.

Now the current (Sept/Oct) issue of Pottery Making Illustrated has an excellent article by Keith Phillips on what he calls the 'Cloche de Beurre' or 'Beurriere'. And he explains that they keep the butter FRESH! Quite a different thing from keeping it cool! Fresh I can understand, yes. The seal created by the water in the base of the dish means that the butter doesn't oxidize, or pick up unpleasant odours, or otherwise go nasty.

Awright! Beurriers coming up! Thank you, Mr. Phillips!

BTW, update on the canister set customer: I went down to see her and came away with a paint sample which she wants to match. It's a pale creamy yellow so shouldn't be too hard to do. I promised to make some tests and come back and show them to her so she can approve the colour before I make the set. She struck me as one of these ladies who don't have enough worries. Sounds silly, but the result is that they try to control everything in their lives to the -nth degree because now they can. She explained several times that in her old kitchen everything was co-ordinated, even the towels, so I guess she's doing it again. She won't be easy to please but I'll give it a shot. She did surprise me at the end of my visit, though, by getting out quite a comprehensive tool kit in order to put a dab of paint on a stick for me. The serious tool kit didn't 'tell' with the pure white carpet, the white nylon sheers, the precisely aligned china ornaments.... hmmm.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Growly Day

What a growly day today!

Opened the bigger kiln today and.... yikes. It had gone off after an unusually long 12 hours but I couldn't remember how long it had been on low so I wasn't that worried. Mistake! Totally underfired. Bleah. Yuck. Of course I need the stuff for Saturday....

So I unloaded and sure enough, another element was broken. Luckily it was the last of the old ones (I wanted to replace all elements last time Jim the kiln guru was here, but he talked me into only doing the ones he felt were the older ones) and even more luckily, he had made me one extra element. This sounds odd, but this is an old kiln, made almost 20 years ago by a cheerful carefree sort of a guy. Eric made excellent kilns for a few years and then decided he liked motorcycles better. So, in his carefree way, he stopped making and servicing kilns and all of us who had purchased them would have been in the soup if it hadn't been for Jim getting into the business. I'll always remember one thing Eric said to me once. He was late and explained it by saying he'd been delayed by a truck ahead of him on the road. "Everywhere I go," he said, "there's a slow truck following ahead of me."

I got the new element in without too much trouble and turned to the real work of the day.

First of all, it has been extremely hot this week. Even without the kilns it was over 30C in the studio.

Secondly, we seem to be having the mother of all mosquito crops. Late every summer we get a hatch of a certain species of mosquito. I don't know what it is, but it is a tiny critter, only about a quarter of an inch long, and I swear it has a blunt stinger because it hurts.

So I painted small bowls all day in the 30C + heat with a zillion microscopic biters sneaking up my pant legs, into my hair and under my glasses. I had to keep the doors shut and even Kip the dog couldn't stay outside. He lay under my feet on his dog bed and snapped at the mosqies. Really relaxing!

A possible customer called and wants a custom canister set. Fine, but she doesn't have a car so can I just come down and see her kitchen so I can see what it is she wants to match.Where is she? Right down in the busiest part of the City, of course. Is there a place to park at her condo? Of course not. Did I say, 'no'? Of course not. She sounded so sad about having been forced to sell her house (mansion?) because she was getting so old and couldn't do all the work anymore and her daughter made her get a modern kitchen and it just isn't 'home' etc etc etc. I fell for it and didn't even hear the violins in the background until too late.


It had better be cooler tomorrow.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kitsch Attack!

Every now and then, one must do some kitsch! I did some things I call Fairy Houses a couple of years ago, and I still get requests for them, so last week I decided to make a few more. They are very easy but are time-consuming to decorate. I worked at the 15 of them all one day, and got rather bored! As I was doing them, their price, in my head, kept going up!

Once they were in the kiln I got some pink styrofoam, the high-density kind, and Super Helper and I spent a morning cutting, gluing and spray-painting to make a display thingie for the Houses. It turned out fairly good, and I am impressed by how easy it is to make stuff out of styrofoam. A whole new world of display opportunities!

Take a look at the finished Houses, displayed at the Carp Farmers' Market yesterday:

Two questions I got about them: first, why didn't the doors open?, to which I replied that Fairies are magical and don't need the doors to open; and, secondly, why the ladders? I was stuck on the ladders question until it came to me: the Fairies have lots of friends, and they need the ladders!

I put some grasses and branches behind the styro thing to give more of a garden 'feel'. It worked pretty well, and I sold quite a few of the houses. The picture doesn't look very good, but remember, this is just a small corner of a cramped 8' by 19' booth.

The Market overall was pretty good this week. Several of the produce vendors sold out and I did well. It has been a slow Market so far this year, so this is encouraging. Hot, though. It was well over 30C in my booth and the humidity..... oy.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Last Chicken Died At Noon

Sad, but true.

I decided last fall not to get any more egg-laying chickens until I had a better chicken house for them. Between the raccoons, which just chewed through the wooden walls (or door) to get in, and the squirrels which ate more chicken feed than the chickens, it just wasn't worth the wear and tear on either me or the chickens. By this spring there was only one chicken left. All the rest basically died of old age. I'd come in in the morning and one would be flat on the ground and that would be that. Very considerate of them, I thought, to expire so simply.

Anyway, the last chicken soon became Chicken and I let her run around outside the chicken yard. She had a fine time pecking at bugs and eating bird seed and became quite good friends with Kip the dog and Pepper the cat. It wasn't unusual for all three of them to be settled down on the front porch looking out at the world. And like the other pets, Chicken soon got into the habit of wandering into the Studio. I didn't worry about it because the concrete floor was easy to clean up, although.I did draw the line at her coming into the house. I told my friends and anyone else who came by that she was retired.

So on Tuesday, which was the almost-hottest day of the summer so far, Chicken came into the Studio and poked around as usual, but I looked at her and thought she didn't look as bright-eyed as she should have. She drank some of the dog's water, clucked a few times, and went back outside.

At noon I found her lying in her usual spot on the porch, but no longer watching the world.

I'm thinking a small series of tiles, about a Little Red Hen, will be a good way to remember my Last Chicken.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tiny Bowls

Wasted the whole of yesterday morning trying to make some very small bowls. Why are small things so hard? You would think that, after 20+ years of throwing pots, I'd be able to make 8 little bowls, 4" across and 1" high, with no trouble. Instead, what did I get? About 50 bowls, no two alike. I tried first to throw them off the hump but found it impossible to make them all the same size. Ok, I thought, I'll weigh them out. 6 oz. of clay was too much..... ever try to centre 4 oz. of clay? With big hands?

Eventually I got the hang of that, but my bowls were too thin, or too wide, or too something. In the end I gave up in disgust and had lunch and worked in the garden all afternoon. Phoo on those bowls, I said.

So this morning I threw a dozen wee bowls, no trouble, and got them pretty much all the same. Guess the learning just had to 'jell' or something.

Of course, now I have my dander up, and I am going to make dozens more, just to prove I can.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Trillium Platters

I'm relieved to say that china paints have once again saved my butt. I had promised a platter with a Trillium design to a local Wildlife Festival and had painted a half dozen of them. When they came out of the kiln, however, they were disappointing. The leaves were alright, the platters were fine, but the flowers just hadn't any 'poomf'. I looked at them for a day or two, trying to convince myself they would do, but it wasn't working. So yesterday I got out the china paints, mixed up a tiny bit of black, and added thin black outlines to the flowers. After re-firing to cone 010, they were much improved!

I bought these china paints many years ago. I only have the basic colours, but they are endlessly mixable and keep forever. I just mix a wee bit of the powder with a drop of mineral oil, and they are ready to go. I'm not skilled enough to paint whole pieces in china paints, and anyway that is a very different medium from pottery, but I can fix the odd piece. I once had to paint back in all the soft rose colour that had burned out in a batch of mugs with pink hearts on them - a lot less work than re-making them, and much quicker.

So now I can bring the Wildlife Festival their platters for their Silent Auction this weekend. Not sure why I am doing this, an ego thing, I guess. I also made a very fine bookmark with info about my pottery and garden and had 1000 of them printed so I'll bring some of them as well. Never hurts to advertise!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Photography Day

Well, I'm off to a great start, not. Blocked off the whole day to take new pictures of my pots for my new website, cleaned off a table in the Studio to use, got my lights and background ready..... and discovered that I had let my camera battery run down.

So I'm waiting while it recharges.

It's been slow month in the Studio anyway. I won't go into detail, but will say that the family member worried about her job is still and more happily employed, and the seriously ill family member is on the mend. Big 'Whews' from me! Now I can dig through the chores that I've let slide a bit and get back to work on my pottery.

Making some cereal bowls. I'm going to try out several basic shapes, and see which ones sell the best. A cereal (or soup) bowl sounds so simple, but I haven't been able to get it right yet. One of the problems I have with them is, where do I decorate? My flowers don't fit inside, the outside isn't very visible. Then there is the problem that if I spend too much time decorating a small bowl, it becomes too expensive to sell well. I've already tried some ideas, such as making the outside a solid colour to go with the flowers, or leaving it white, or putting a small line of colour around.... but none have hit the spot. I'm not happy with them, and they haven't sold well. I've made lots of cereal bowls to go with dinner sets, and people seem happy with them, but the ones I just put out for sale sit there. I get requests for other sizes, other shapes, other decorations. Cereal bowls seem to be like mugs - you can't please all of the people all of the time, but maybe with work I can please more of the people more of the time!

I'll post some pictures when they're done.

Should my camera battery ever get fully charged....

Friday, January 8, 2010

Real Potters

This morning, even though I knew it was silly, I was in the mood to make some New Year's Resolutions. OK, so maybe my first resolution should be to do things on time instead of a week late.... Anyway, there's just something about a quiet snowy morning, the start of a new year, a new decade even, that makes you want to pull up your socks, and I got thinking about what I should concentrate on in 2010. Right at about this time, a potter acquaintance phoned up to ask me a question. She didn't understand something about her kiln so she decided to 'ask a real potter about it'. That made me laugh as I've never felt like a 'real potter' myself!

Not that I'm too sure about 'real potters'. I really do wonder about them sometimes, things I'd love to know but could never ask.

For example, do real potters spend hours and hours scooping bumpy glaze out of giant pails and brushing it through a sieve to make it usable again? For one mug?

Do real potters ever spend many hours painting something on a set of plates, and then decide at the last minute to use an untested colour on the rims? Not the colour they've carefully checked will work with their glaze, kiln, and so on, but the one they just bought that is labelled 'Autumn Cinnamon'? It sounds perfect, you're tired, the order is due in two days..... and you can guess what 'Autumn Cinnamon' does in the kiln.

Do real potters ever reach for a damp towel to lift out a hot kiln shelf? More than once?

Do real potters ever dump a handful of cobalt oxide into half a bucket of some left-over glaze or another? And then get a fabulous blue...... with no idea of how to make more of it? Do real potters write the name of the glaze on the lids of the buckets, lids which fit other buckets just fine?

Do real potters get customers who come into the shop, gush extravagantly about how they just 'loooove' your work, and then say 'Can I get one just exactly like this.... only can you make it a bit larger, and don't put this stupid handle on - make a plain one, and, like, you know, this colour isn't quite right, it should be bluer and don't bother with a lid but I'd like a saucer underneath?' And do real potters then allow her to leave undamaged?

Do real potters spend hours tightly focussed over their drawing tables cutting complicated stencils of some design in several sizes and then use them on a set of pieces.... which promptly sell out and make you want to do more..... only you didn't label the various stencil pieces so now you have no idea which ones go together?

Do real potters sit at their wheels working with the studio door open for the wonderful spring air and their dogs bound in because your neighbour has come to visit and they are so-o-o happy.... and all those lovely fresh mug bodies are right at tail level?

Do real potters have their helpers mix up large batches of glaze, which they then use to glaze a whole kiln load of pots, at which point Invaluable Helper says, 'Oh, by the way, I think I may have forgotten to put in one of the glaze ingredients, but I don't know which one?'

Do real potters ever forget to glaze the inside of a teapot? Forget to make the strainer holes? And then put them out for sale?

Do real potters ever accept an order which needs an inscription on the bottom of each piece? The first ones, you carefully follow the script you wrote out, then your concentration begins to slip, and you leave out a word? On all the rest of them?

Do real potters play Pin Tool Ball? You know, you've been getting along with one pin tool for months, and it's all corroded and the handle is loose, and then you treat yourself to 6 new pin tools, all of which are gone within a week, leaving you with one, which is all corroded and has a loose handle....

The list goes on.... will I ever learn? Will I ever be a 'real' potter?