Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Colors of Deep and the Sisters of the Traveling Mug

I have a friend who recently bought one of my mugs. She told me that she carries her mug with her everywhere she goes, so I asked if she would write a guest post about this for my blog. She writes:

"I am a Deep River gal, born and bred, and I love this land. I love the granite outcroppings and the abundant fresh water in the glorious Ottawa River, lakes, streams and wetlands. I love the tall pines and the mixed deciduous/coniferous forest and I have a deep understanding of the complexities of this ecosystem - what lives here and why, from the bedrock to the tips of the tallest tree. I spend time outside every day, just soaking up the beauty of this habitat, this land, and feeling profoundly grateful that I live here. This is home, in all its extreme seasonal changes, and I feel connected to this land; it is part of me. When I travel, I carry pieces of the land with me, like talismen, to remind me of where I come from and to call me home.

There are several pocket rocks that have traveled thousands of miles with me and in recent years, I have also carried a mug from home. There is such comfort in starting each day, even in a far away land, with a cup of tea in a familiar and beloved mug.
Thanks Anne for the photo of my (now yours) "traveling mug" reflecting the colors of the Ottawa River

I have a favourite mug, crafted by Eva Gallagher, which captures a sense of the river, the Laurentian Lowlands and the trees and it has become my "traveling mug". The mug has accompanied me on trips to Bolivia (La Paz, Rurrenbacque jungle, El Choro mountain trek), Costa Rica (Playa Guiones), Nicaragua (Ometepe Island), North Carolina, St Joe's Island, and Pukaskwa Park on Lake Superior, Prince Edward Island (all over), New Brunswick (Douglas), and countless shorter trips around Ontario by plane, train, car, canoe and kayak. It fits securely in the cup holder of my car and happily holds a Tim Horton's medium.

I bought the mug at the Valley Artisans Coop a few years ago because it met my criteria - sit comfortably in my hand with good balance and with a pleasing colour palette. I prefer a slim profile in a mug since I hold it by the body instead of the handle. 

One day, in the fall of 2015, after dropping my son at school, I was driving along the waterfront near Centennial Rock, sipping tea from said mug, and was literally stopped dead in my tracks. The sunlight on the hills across the river, the colour palette of that breathtaking scenery was exactly what I held in my hand, on my mug. I pulled into the Centennial Rock parking area and got out, held the cup up in front of me and took a picture (or 10). Eva had captured the spirit of the river perfectly in the form and colour of the mug. Beautiful!

Last week, I was in the Potter's Guild, looking out the lovely new windows towards the river and was struck anew of how well this mug captures the essence of Deep River.  The Ottawa River is the heart of this community, it defines the landscape, it pulls me home and with this mug, I carry a piece of that wherever I go.  

Every day I am struck by the beauty that surrounds me in Deep River and I pause to appreciate the details of the perfection: frost designs on puddles and leaves, dew drops on spiderwebs, fog in the marina, rainbows, sundogs, sparkling snow sculptures. I am grateful for artistic skill which can capture the beauty in a functional and fabulous form.

Today, I leave for Sumatra so the adventures continue. Mug in hand, off I go...

Anne Davies March 28 2016

Inspiring words Anne - and have a wonderful trip!  Deep River is indeed a special place to live. Anne had ordered more of the same mugs to give to her sisters and friends so that they too can have a piece of Deep River and they have all become "Sisters of the Traveling Mug"! I decided to donate the proceeds from this commission for our new windows at the Guild - so we can all see that same million dollar view of the Ottawa River as we make and glaze our pots.
Three of the sisters of the "Travelling Mug"
One of the "Traveling Sisters" in Sumatra with Anne

The descending swirl in the cup design was inspired by courses that I took from Steven Hill and Nick Joerling. I then embellished them - I stamp on a few vertical lines with the end of a wooden stick and add stamped swirls.

For glazing - first Watercolour Green is brushed on and rubbed off, staying only in the impressions. Then the bottom is dipped in a glaze that comes from cleaning out the spray booth - so will not be able to duplicate once I run out!  I then brush on some Dan Hill Lithium Blue Slip, near the top and Strontium Crystal Magic near the middle. Then I spray with Hannah Blue Ash, Van Gilder Blue Ash near the top, a Magnesium Mat in the middle, and a very light  spray of Aerni Ash (no colorants) on top half, an extremely runny ash glaze, just to ensure lots of movement. It is fired in reduction - gas kiln to cone 10.

The last batch I found was not quite as pale yellow in the middle as the one Anne bought .It had more more grayish-white than  yellow, but then over all the swirl lines were better. It takes a lot of practice to get things right!

It's been a while since I have blogged but I am determined to give it another go to write more regularly - it really does motivate me to think about what I am creating and why. So another thank you to Anne - for giving me a reason to get back to blogging!

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Last year I attended an estate sale in my town. It belonged to an early member of the Deep River Potters Guild who was a member in the 60's and early 70's. I bought several of his early pieces to give ti our Guild for the "Former Members Gallery". They were bright orange and yellow.- a testament to when lead glazes were popular. However what attracted me was his collection of pottery books - including "Ceramics Design" by John B. Kenny published in 1963. Although dated in terms of design, it is nevertheless inspiring with lots of great ideas.

In the forward about what is design he writes - ." a ceramist, design means more than that (arrangement of detail) - much more. It means order out of chaos; form out of shapeless mass...... It is something for which he must search, and when he finds it, his work is satisfying and good. His quest is never ended - he must go on searching as long as he lives and works."  Great words to live by!

However the best part of the book for me was the chapter titled "Draw!" Very few pottery books go into any detail on how to go about practicing your drawing for pottery - he devotes 9 pages to it and outlines various exercises that one can do to practice drawing.
1.Keep a sketch book and use it frequently.
2. If you are not used to drawing he suggests you start by making quick sketches of things you see - don't worry about being accurate.
3. Look at an object for a few minutes and then draw it with your eyes closed
4. Make a drawing of a familiar object without looking at it.
5. Warm-up exercise - stretch out your arms and draw in the air - write your name and write it backwards.
6. Make memory drawings of people doing things - playing an instrument, kicking a ball etc.
7. Do large quick drawing on a blackboard - bold sweeping continuous lines. Seeing white lines on a black lets you see drawings as negatives and you get a different perspective.
8.Try drawing with different things - pen, pencil, bushes.
9. Try using newspaper for brushwork - practice with brushstrokes to show expression, images with just one continuous brush stroke.
To help with ceramic form and decoration -
1. Draw outlines of various ceramic forms - symmetrical, asymmetrical.
2. Draw your form - circle for a plate and draw various vertical and horizontal lines, wavy and straight, thick and thin .
3. On square plates try out patterns of rectangles, overlapping different colours, some with designs within them.
4. Try out stencils with dabbing on colour with a sponge. Overlap different sponges.
5. Use dots, wandering lines.
6. Use a "design finder" - cut out a 3" square hole in a piece of paper and and move it over your designs to find the best  section.
And his final advice - take good care of your sketch book - it will provide a rich source of inspiration for years to come. I still have my sketch books from the 60's and 70's and it's really interesting to see what how my interests and styles have changed.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

For 2015 - Wishing Everyone that Creative High - The Joy of Making

I often think about what the attraction is to pottery for many people - apart from the wish to make pots magically on the wheel. I belong to the Deep River Potters' Guild which has a fully equipped ceramic studio. These past few years have been particularly rewarding as we have had several really keen new members who have introduced the rest of us to lots of new styles and work and who are not afraid to take on new challenges in terms of the kind of work that they make. Many of them have mentioned that there are so many different aspects to clay - something for everyone - that you can never get bored. They mention how it allows them to be creative and that the creative process often gives them a "high" and how they can get lost in the process. I know the feeling well!

How do you get into that creative high? John Cleese has given several talks on the topic:                               ( )
Several of his tips really resonate with me. First you need to have uninterrupted time and lots of it - at least an hour and a half because it takes about 1/2 an hour to get really into it and then you need time for those unconscious ideas to percolate. Secondly you should delay making decisions about a project until the last minute. We feel a bit stressed if we have not made a decision but by delaying it as much as possible it gives our unconscious minds even more time to come up with more creative ideas. So leave unfinished work around - you will eventually come up with a more brilliant plan on how to finish it.  However once you have come up with a decision, then you need to focus and get the project done.

That need for uninterrupted time is something that has started to worry me. I have just finished reading a book - "A Deadly Wandering - A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention" by Matt Richtel. It is the true story of a teenager who killed two people while texting and driving.  The story is interspersed with chapters on past and present research on what technology is doing to our brains and especially to young children whose brains have not fully developed. To be creative we need uninterrupted time - and when I look around everyone is texting/talking/checking emails -so it is getting harder and harder to do! The book explains how each interruption brings a squirt of dopamine in the brain - so these interruptions can become addictive. Then when you need to focus to get your project done - the interruptions again affect your brain's ability - the part that works with the focus and reasoning part - as the research mentioned in the book indicates.

Another tip from John is to work in a group. I find that I love to look at other people's work as I not only learn from it but can also be inspired by it whether it is a beginner or expert!. Although I work mostly at home I do all my glazing and firings at the Guild. All our firings end up as communal so we get lots of members work in each firing - whether it is in the electric or gas kilns. So kiln openings can get rather exciting as we exchange comments and discuss the results! Lots of opinions and that is what gets the creative juices flowing and what makes belonging to the Guild so rewarding.

So here is to finding time, lots of uninterrupted time and making  lots of great new work in 2015!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

You're Invited! Christmas Show and Sale Saturday Dec 5th

It's been a pretty hectic couple of months as I was invited to take part in a Christmas show with 4 other artists - all great talents.
Rosemary Driscoll, fused glass, Catherine Timm, fabric arts, , Natasha Walsh, acrylic painter, as well as myself, will be showing at Pam Cunningham's who is a watercolour and mosaic artist.
Copy and paste the link below for more information.

Pam lives a short distance from the bridge crossing in Pembroke on Allumette Island, so if you are looking from some fabulous Xmas gifts or just to treat yourself, please drop by on Sat Dec 5th between 10 am and 4 pm. This is the first time that I have participated in studio show so I am really looking forward to it. Did I mention that there will be live music, treats and door prizes?

Apart from my one of a kind pieces pictured below I will have some of my cups and trays decorated with black sand from the Ottawa River as well as other pieces for the kitchen or for the soul.
Cups decorated with black sand from the Ottawa River beaches.
Handbuilt Vase - untitled.

On the Farm #2 -  fired in my wood fired kiln in The Newfoundout.
Now it is down to the wire - I am opening the gas kiln tomorrow and so will not have time to make more before next Saturday - so here's keeping my fingers crossed for some great pieces for the show and hope to see you there!
Driving Directions from Ontario to Pam Cunningham's:
From the Ontario/ Quebec turnoff travel on HWY 148 for
10kms. You will pass St. Joseph’s and turn left on to Range 5.
Travel 2 kms and turn right onto Lapierre. Drive 1.5kms to 49
Lapierre on your left.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Kicking It Up a Notch!

At our Guild a firing fee for a pot includes bisque, glaze and as many refires as you want. So if I'm unhappy with the results of a firing, I usually try reglazing or refiring- often in electric after a gas firing. Recently I had several pots that just lacked something - were just too boring. What I do with those is that I use an underglaze black pen to kick it up a notch. I find that a fired glazed surface makes using the pen much easier as it does not catch the way it often does on a bisque surface, allowing rapid, flowing marks.
The wall plate below ended up a pretty washed-out shino with some weak carbon trapping in the middle after a cone 10 gas firing. I thought that I would try a design to tie in the carbon trapping pattern and the circle on the upper left using my underglaze pen.

Shino platter cone 10 redux - pretty bland before.
Shino platter after underglaze pen decoration and a refire in electric at cone 6. 
I also took a page from  Nick Joerling and used some blue highlight dots.. 
The refire unfortunately removed the carbon trapping which was pretty weak 
but it warmed up the shino nicely to a more orange colour. 
After cone 10 gas firing - figures do not pop out as much as I would like,
After refire in cone 6 electric and with underglaze pen
outlines, the figures stand out much better.
I feel that this underglaze surface decoration on a glazed surface would probably not be very good on functional surfaces such as inside of bowls and cups. Maybe not even on the outside of pots that would be often used in the dishwasher as I'm not sure how duraable the underglaze pigment is, especially on top of a cone 10 glaze refired at cone 6.. But on non-functional surfaces it can help a pot to kick it up a notch!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

To Decorate or not to Decorate that is the Question - Or in Search of the Simple Pot

Well during this last mentorship with Dan Hill I have been struggling with my platters- I really do love the undecorated, simple pot - but somehow when I try to do that it just does not work for me. I have tried to make the "frames" for my platters without so many curves to simplify - make them look more industrial. So then the interior of the platters I find needs something. However as I look at all the platters below I see that I may not have decorated some of them in the middle but because of the frames they are hardly plain simple pots - they again have a lot of stuff going on. To make a plain simple pot is much harder than I thought - and I'm still searching!
Platter with curvy, complicated rim, inside colour grading from
dark blue green to lighter green in the middle. However that rim says to me it needs
something inside to relate to the frame design. For me the plain interior does not
match the rim
Shino glazed platter with Kanthal wire additions. Some carbon trapping in the middle. Again not quite sure what to make of plain interior. I do like the circle with the Kanthal wire - will try to do more to get a more industrial look and maybe tie into some of my nuclear theme. However it is too bland and so will add some black underglaze pen design in the middle and refire. 

Shino glazed platter with blue underglazes and reglazed in electric with white glaze. With this one I feel the frame ties into the interior decoration - the "rock" on the left part of the frame works well with the forest.

Way, way too much going on - shino frame clashes with the slip and white glaze interior. I think it would have been better if it was all the same colour - either all shino or all white.