The end of 2008 brings me to the halfway point in my Journey Workshop and I have decided to review my progress so far. The pot pics posted are from the last firing of 2008. Some successful, mostly not, but getting better.
Since starting my journey in July, I can see a decided change for the better in my work. I attribute this directly to the fact that Steven's superb critical eye and hsi helpful suggstions are never far from my mind. I find myself continually asking, "Is this the best that I can do?"
I find that I am working on several themes - the handbuilt appliqued pots, oval covered pots, bowls, teapots and cups and trying to tie them together into a more unified look - one of my goals for this year long journey workshop. A unified look is something that is hard for me to achieve as I love trying new ideas, especially decorating ones.
There have been many other lessons learned from Steven as well.
1. I try to examine all the details, front and back, top and bottom. As Steven says , "God is in the details". Steven has an incredible eye for detail. Nothing is too much trouble for him. When I complain about something being difficult to do, such as a tedious decoration or a difficult handbuilding section, he says, "But that's not the point. " I continually try to remind myself of that and try not to take shortcuts.
A good example is his view that a pot is a 3-D form so decoration should be on all sides. It does not have to be a lot - just something that ties in and catches your attention.
2. He emphasizes making lots of sketches of pots. Although I had already been doing this, I am doing this even more now and this has been invaluable - even if I draw the same form over and over. I may then set it aside for several days/weeks. When I come back to it, often forms are refined and new ideas developed.
3. Focus on the rim and foot. Steven says those are like punctuation marks on a pot. One should not overwhelm the other, unless one deliberately intends to, for the sake of the design. One thing that I have noticed with potters who have had formal training is the strong feet and rims that their pots have. Self taught potters tend to have especially weak feet. I have been trying to makes stronger rims and feet - the bowl pictured below has a stronger rim than I used to make.
4. Handles. Although I had tried over the years to make handles pulled off the cup I had never succeeded in making those my standard handle. Several years ago I had ordered the DVD from Tony Clennel on making handles and that helped a lot. It wasn't until I finally made myself try them again at Steven's suggestion at Centre Street Clay that I am finally beginning to get comfortable making them.
I still have a long way to go, but as Steven says, "They are miles better than they were before." Yet I had thought my handles before were not bad. Again that is another sure way to often spot whether a potter is professionally trained or self taught (and that's me mostly).
5. Asking myself, "What do I like, not like about the pot." Steven usually starts a critique with - "Well what do you think?" What he thinks is sometimes different and together it makes for an in depth look at the pot.
Verbalizing my opinions to him during our consultations has helped me really think about my pots and to remember my ideas. I feel this has directly led to an improvement in the overall look in my pottery.
7. Emphasis on form - is the total in balance, resulting in a pleasing shape? What is the pot saying to you? What do handles, knobs, decorations add to the pot? In the small covered jar the knob adds elegance, but the copper red glaze on the lid is off centre (it is hard to see in the pic) and so very distracting from the overall design and central placement of the knob, which is more formal. This ties in to point #5 below on how glazes empathize the form - rightly or wrongly - wrongly (to me at least)in this case.)
5. How glazes emphasize the form, bring out the best features in a pot. As well a sprayed pot should not necessarily look sprayed. Glazing is still a major weak point with me. You can see from the pics posted here that my pots still mostly look sprayed - no subtlety there. I hate glazing! You can see that the painter's water jar and brush rest on right would have been more attractive without such a strong central blue area - I need to think about my spraying more carefully. As well I have difficulty with color combinations - I need to try to better visualize the final result.
Although my work is still all over the map in terms of style, glazes etc, I am slowly getting to a more narrow focus - to achieving that unified look. Thank you Steven for a marvellous, inspiring 5 months and there are 6 more months to go!
Well it was a mad rush last week and this week to get stuff bisqued and glazed for the Dec gas firing on the 17th. I also needed to get all my pics posted on Flicker for the Thursday consult with Steven. From the Nov firing, the one with the muddy results, Steven agreed that they could have been a result of the accidental reduction during the slow cool.
We discussed the handbuilt sculptures. Steven felt that I needed to concentrate more on my spraying - I was delineating the different areas too much - you can see the the dark brown bands on the back of the boat/fishing woman sculpture where the different glazes separate and he felt this was a distraction. At first I rather liked them, but now in terms of total design I can see where he is coming from. He mentioned that he feels that it should not be too obvious that a pot has been sprayed - the areas should blend together.
Our Guild sprayer does not work that well - it tends to get clogged and the control is not that good. Steven orders his sprayers from Harbour Freight in the US and I got the item numbers from him. I will order the small one as that will work with our small compressor.
My last boat/fishing woman sculpture was still in the greenware state - I was really pleased with it as I felt that I had finally improved by simplifying - as well I was designing with the glaze in mind. In my previous vases the runny ash glazes were interfering with the appliqued design, yet I loved the effect of the rivulets. So this time I left large blank areas and kept the appliques to a small area in the forefront. To add some interest to the front blank areas I added a Kanthal wire ladder. Steven liked the Kanthal wire addition, as it fitted the design. As well when one looked down from the top the resulting wave shape also fitted in with the boat theme. I still felt the top edge when looking at it from the front was a little wishy washy - it was supposed to be scooped out front and back and swoop up in the front middle protrusion. I think that a stronger projection in the middle and on the right as well would have helped.
We discussed the anchor. I have put an anchor on all the sculptures to indicate that it is a boat. However I have to agree with Steven they were just too obvious and to me, just too angular. The rest of the design is more curvy. Now when I look back at all the other sculptures, the anchors just scream out at me. Next sculpture no anchor!!!
I had included Kanthal wire as a knob in a teapot. Steven asked me what I thought of the wire knob. I felt that it was not substantial enough and perhaps spiked up too much in relation to the rest of the pot. Steven felt that although it was a novel idea it was too out of place on that pot - in relation to the handle etc. He felt that if you use that type of wire knob you need to add more of it somewhere. The Kanthal wire worked on the sculpture because of the repetition. After thinking about it for a few days, I now am excited about the possibilities of more wire additions on a teapot such as on the handle and under the spout - ala a nose ring like Tony Clennel has on his gravy boats.
One of the big advantages of being able to discuss your work with an experienced teacher such as Steven is that you end up seeing so much more than you had before, even if it was something that Steven had not pointed out. These discussions also generate a lot of new ideas over the next few days as I mull over his comments.
The glaze results will be out this Saturday - I had decided to concentrate on the Stony Yellow, Hannah Ochre and Blue Ash Glazes, using the Waterfall Blue and Fraser Titanium overglazes which create crystals and movement. So lots of pots in that combination - let's hope they turn out.
Along with a few others I brought in a few pots for the critique during the workshop with Robert Tetu. He had several good suggestions. When I glaze the foot of my bowls I tend to glaze just halfway down. He suggested either all the way or not a all. On stoneware I don't mind an unglazed foot though on porcelain the white clay somehow is rather jarring. Also regarding the bowl with the fish stamped on the rim - liked the bowl but wondered why the fish were there. Well I am trying to get a more unified look to my work - as I have stamped fish on the appliqued work. Someone else suggested that there was too much symmetry with the two fish - so that week made some bowls with just one fish and I think I like those better now. Also tried to get the spiral in the middle more fluid and less symmetrical as Steven had suggested.
I continued with several more teapots out of HP porcelain - again pulled the handles off the pot and these seem to be getting easier now, though I am still not very pleased with them. I think that I finally got the spout straight - with the end not tapering out. Also made some more cups - for once I knew how I was going to glaze them as I was making them. One set with stony yellow and Hannah blue ash as in the bowl and covered jar from the Nov firing and the others a shino with Gosu brushwork underneath. However not very pleased with the brushstrokes, but need some new designs for the Co-op for Xmas.
I continued with the fishing lady theme - this time I like the shape a lot better, as it is a more of a vase shape and the appliqued is more restrained. I used kanthal wire to make a ladder on the side of the ship - I used to watch the huge frieghters coming up the St Lawrence river to Montreal and remember those ladders on the sides and they aways stopped partway down before they reached the water. Sales at the Co-op seem to have slowed quite a bit - maybe there will be a last minute rush.
I discussed the October firing with Steven as I felt we had rather muddy overall results - I felt that we had had too much reduction. Steven mentioned that he felt that the best reduction results were when the reduction was controlled by the damper. You get less physical signs of reduction but get a more even result in the kiln. If by the gas, then you usually get lots of flames up the chimney. Even minute changes in the setting of the damper and gas can make a huge difference. I seem to be carrying through with the applique theme with my other pots - though will try some of the stony yellow glaze instead of the Hannah ochre ash. The Hannah ash gives me blistering sometime. Regarding the teapots - Steven still felt the end was not tapered enough - opening on spout was still a bit too big. As well the squared bottom teapot - the spout addition - the corner was too jarring - did not blend in well. So will work on my spouts and other aspects of the teapot. The bashed teapot he felt had possibilities - liked the knob which I do as well - I may try some more though I don't think they will sell here. But it was fun to make. The fish bowls - the circular finger marks were too predictable - acceptable but the uniformity did not go well with the looseness of the rim. Anyway another good session - keeps me enthused and focused a lot more than I was before as I was getting rather discouraged what with the bad glaze results and I felt at a dead end with regards to creativity. We had our November firing on Thursday - this time the results were even muddier. In the slow cool (from around 1900F to 1500F) for the first half hour the kiln was accidentally in reduction - maybe that muddied the glazes? The fishing lady pot had the blue ash almost an olive colour and the ochre lacked the rich orange brown where thin.
The Stoney Yellow glaze worked quite well on two pots - especially the covered jar. The fish bowl was not too bad, but the second fish bowl had a lot of blistering on the underside edge - even with the Stoney Yellow. It was on the front bottom shelf and I will try refiring it to see if I can get rid of the blisters. Again could have been due to the reduction during the slow cool. I have been trying to extend the bisque firing or bisqueing twice to see if that reduces the blisters by eliminating all gases from carbon burnout.
On Sat and Sunday our Guild had a workshop by Robert Tetu, a functional potter from southern Ontario. He demonstrated his economical methods of making his pots as time is money when you are trying to earn a living as a potter. Every movement counts - e.g. using a sponge (which he already has in his hand) instead of having to pick up a shammy and using it. Everybody is now anxious to try his faceting techniques.
I decided to carry on the theme of the fishing lady but incorporating a mirror. Years ago I had made these mirrors, but used a landscape theme. I dried the slab very slowly - pressed between drywall for several weeks before I worked on it - cutting and insetting the thrown mirror edge. Again all was left to equalize for several weeks under plastic.
I made another couple of teapots incorporating Steven's suggestions - a spout that does not flare at the end and a shorted knob. On the first teapot the stamped applique ended up not looking right so I bashed it a bit and then kept bashing the teapot until it looked right. Very therapeutic.
On the second one I decided to apply the stamped applique at a slight angle to give it a looser look. I don't know that I like the spouts - perhaps I should cut them off parallel to the bottom.
We had to postpone our gas firing for a week as there was not enough for a kiln load. It seemed to be a rather poor firing - colours a bit muddy. Could have been too much reduction - maybe our oxyprobe is not working that well or it could just have been the loading. However after having all these fishing woman pots sitting around the house I realize that they really are not a very attractive form. Will try and work on that. I had double bisqued the stoneware pots that were to be ash glazed hoping that it would eliminate some of the blistering. It seemed to have helped though in most cases the ash glaze was a bit too thin so blisters would not have formed anyway. The fishing woman again ended up badly glazed - not the right thickness in the right spots, though the back again was great. When will I learn - the plain back with the runny ash glazes looks great. The front with all the details is just too much with those glazes. I think I will have too try another glaze on those appliqued pots. The stony yellow glaze that I got from Steven looked not too bad on stoneware once I had reduced the iron. So will perhaps try that glaze on with those pots. An overspray with Rhodes 32 and .8% manganese did some running and crystal formation so that looks promising. On Friday several members of our Guild did a workshop at the Golden Lake Algonquians Reserve. We had about 15 participants - both adult and children and we showed them how to make coiled pots. They are trying to set up a cultural centre and bring back some of the traditional crafts. They had a kiln donated to them and we so will be back after Christmas and help them set it all up as well as fire it. After Steven's consult I have tried to make the fish stamped handles more loose - so tried small dishes with cut edges and then wrapped the two ends with a stamped slab. Now not sure how to glaze them as these were done on procelain. I also made a porcelain knife to go with the dish - will be a challenge to glaze it. I also stamped rims directly and then impressed a couple of lines, pinching and twisting the rim at the tail end to give the fish movement. I liked that effect best. Will see how it ends up glazed.
At Center Street clay Steven's and Kenyon's platters had very wide rims. I love them! Compared to mine, mine are way too thin to my liking, so have been working on getting more clay into the rim. This really frames the pot and gives it what Steven calls a generous look - have been generous with the clay and not stingy. In our firing at the Guild we pay by the pound so we tend to aim for thinner pots. However, a thicker rim does not mean the rest of the pot has to be thick. I still have a long way to go - somehow by the time I stretch out the rim, it is back to a thinner edge. So will work on that. I spent Sat and Sunday glazing as there may be a gas firing while I am away in Toronto next week. Looking forward to visiting my daughter there as well as lots of galleries and the annual Fusion Clay and Glass Sale. Fusion is the Ontario Association for clay and glass artists.
The weeks go by so fast - and so few pots made, but having a deadline is really helping. Had a great feedback session with Steven on Monday. Steven's comments on the fish plate - could have done better - fish going through the middle, need more asymmetry etc. I thought that I had created asymmetry by varying the location of the fish - but never looked to see that they go right across the middle. The glaze was definitely too thin- looked sprayed. May try to reglaze. The fishing lady was definitely much better, but still need to control my spraying better, the lower part of the woman is a totally different colour so disruptive to the esign. So will try to keep better notes - how many layers, how thick is the glaze in the jar etc. The pots that Steven liked the best were the small oval dishes. I had thrown them very fast as I needed some small items for the Cooperative. It was the thickness of the rims, that the foot match the rim as well in definition. He said they looked generous.
He could see that I had struggled with the knobs on the covered jars - the curled one he felt was OK - though it looked like it was just dropped on the lid - it suited the pot. The others looked like I was trying too hard. He suggested that I look at some of the work that Nick Joerling does - as he has fantastic knobs. Also the lugs on the pots - looked just stuck on - did not meld with the pot - so need to work on getting those lugs looking more like they are part of the pot. The teapots - yes I think I heard him sigh- and yes I also realize that they need a lot of work. The best one was the flat bottomed one - but he felt all knobs were too tall, and spouts just a tad too big. So much so trying to make them "manly". (I have a commission for a teapot for a friend's brother). Also he felt that in order for the spout to pour smoothly it is important for it to taper and not flare at the end which I have been doing as I really like that look.
So back to work - will work on knobs, teapots and continue with my fishing lady theme.
Finished work on the fishing lady on the front of the boat. However when looking straight on the pot the lady is too much up front so that you cannot see her too well. So started another one this time with the lady near the back. I also put a top on the boat - as I was getting some cracking on the corners, hoping that this will tie the corners together better. I had quite a time trying different knobs for the lidded jars, and mostly I was not satisfied with them. I also made some small oval dishes as well as oval baking dishes, trying to get some continuity in my work. Since the jars had dried too much to stamp properly I ended up adding some appliqued fish to one - did not look that great. So I ended just give them mostly a quick bash to loosen up the work. I liked the small oval dishes best. I also have a commission for a teapot so made several. It's for the brother of friend so I was trying to make something manly - with larger spout and knob - ended up not happy with any, but will continue with them.
I have finally managed to correct the spelling fo Steven's name in the title of my blog - had to copy it all into a new blog that had Steven's name spelled correctly - Spent a lot of the week glazing for the gas firing we had on Friday. Pots came out on Sunday! Did quite a few glaze tests - using variations of the Rhodes 32 as well as well as Steven's Stoney Yellow and a few others. With Xmas coming up I threw some large "parade" garlic jars and butter dishes. Butter dishes are something that I find people come looking for. One customer in our Artisans Gallery mentioned it was her third butter dish as she had broken the other two. I had put off finishing the last fishing lady-factory ship as the design was just getting too complicated and I was unhappy at how it was turning out. However on Thursday I decided that I had better finish it even if I did not like it as I had already put a lot of work into it.
I also decided to throw some oval lidded jars. At Center Street Clay Steven had showed us how he makes his rectangular jars and how he makes the lids for them. For the jars, he cuts off the pot (has a bottom) and then using flat paddles squeezes from both sides. For the lids he throws a flat pancake with deep throwing marks in the center. Once dried a bit the pancake is thrown and stretched. I decided to do oval jars as I wanted a less severe look - throwing them without a bottom , cutting and then lifting and shaping into an oval. I then placed them on a slab bottom. I will try to decorate them so that they fit in with my other stamped/appliqued work.
The firing gave mixed results again. The appliqued fishing lady - I had sprayed iron saturate on the figure from the side and wiped it off the top, hoping that would acuntuate the edges of the applied clay. I then sprayed it with Hannah ochre ash and Hannah blue. The front bottom past turned out just right, the rion satrate showed through a bit, showing the cut edges black, but it culd have been thicker so tht it would show up more. However for the upper part of the figure I had the glaze too thin - everything there looked burnt. However the back of the vase was just gorgeous. Everything was just right. Now if I can just repeat that. However after all that the pot cracked in the upper corner - it opened about 1/2 cm so obviously some stress there. My one stamped fish plate - used a slightly lighter stoneware clay called smoothstone. Used an iron underglaze on the fish and wiped it off so tht it accentuated the stamps. I sprayed Aerni colour active slip with 3% CoCo3. The result was not too bad, though the glaze could have been thicker to get some running and a richer finish. The tests that I did with Rhodes 32 - using 1% Cr and .8% Mn ended up rather stiff and do not break much over texture, unlike the base version of Rhodes. The Stoney Yellow was not too bad on pocelain but turned out too dark on the Prostone. The best test tile a B-Mix with Stoney Yellow with Rhodes 32 with Mn on top with ran and gave some crystalization. I had also sprayed ash glazes - Leach Ash and Blue Van Gilder ash - again not much action on the Rhodes, the stoney Yellow ran bit bit and was not too bad.
Well I finally found a time to have my web based consultation with Steven. We used Skype and Steven had a webcam so he came through really well - both the photo and voice. I only used the mike on my laptop and I had posted the pictures of my pots on Flicker so we both could look at the same pic. I had glazed and fired some pre Steven workshop pots using Rhodes 32. He felt that although the Rhodes 32 pots were acceptable, they could be a lot more interesting, by perhaps barely hitting the edges sideways of the design with a very fluid glaze like Watercolor Green or Blue - that would accent the edges of the design. The shopping ladies definitely could stand some highlights. However it is important to highlight areas that are in relation to the drawing. The monk vase was better as the glaze there was more fluid (it was a reglaze) and so the edges of the design were delineated better.
He felt that the least successful of the Rhodes 32 pots was the fishing lady as the top right hand corner and face were all emphasized in white - the white area really did not relate to the rest of the drawing. I will need to be more careful how I spray.
I really liked a Stoney Yellow glaze that Steven had on one of his pots in an older CM article that he had posted on his webpage. I thought that it might be a more interesting glaze than Rhodes 32 - more lively colour than just the cream of Rhodes 32, yet still show darker brown where thin. Will try that glaze as well as some from a line blend that I did from Rhodes 32. One sample with .75 manganese was the colour of cafe au lait, but dark brown where thin and that may be another more interesting choice. Another with 1% chrome is a warm tan so will try that as well. We discussed my disastrous firing with the ash glazes, how the ash glazes relate to the design and how they can overpower the design. When using two colours, I will need to be careful not to abruptly separate the colours.
Actually the back of the vases where there was no or little design were best. Hi suggestion of having pots with little or no design as supporting pots around a more complicated pot seemed like an excellent suggestion and will work on that as well. Also looked at my mugs. I could really see the difference between the handles pulled off the mug and some of my pre Steven handles which now really look horrible - yet I had thought that they very quite good. Sometimes you cannot see what you are looking at until someone points it out to you. I had tried from time to time with handles pulled off the mug but until Steven's workshop did not have the perseverance to keep trying. Also the white glaze going over the top was distracting to the overall design - and I had to agree - there was just too much going on. So I will continue working on the appliqued pots - even though they are getting more and more complicated which I do not really like. Steven thought that I should continue and eventually I will take from these pots what I like best and will end up with much simpler forms. So lots of stuff to work on in the next month - it is nice to have specific goals to work toward and this year long journey workshop seems to be keeping me at it so far. On Sat and Sunday took part in an Art Fair that was organizied at a local nursery that was taking part in the "Rural Ramble". Attendance was really poor and was not worth the effort as sold only seconds. However got several ideas from the imported items that the nursery was sellng as they sell home decor items as well as plants.
In Dec 2009 I renamed my first blog to Centered - Focus on Clay and Creativity - as I have finished my year long journey workshop with Steven Hill. The focus will continue to be on thoughts about my work - about creativity, design and function...................
I have been making pottery off and on for 40 years, exploring many different aspects of ceramics. I named my pottery business after "The Newfoundout" - the secluded valley high in the Opeongo Hills of eastern Ontario where we own an abandoned farm and where in 2007 I built a wood-fired kiln. I normally fire in a gas kiln in Deep River, Ontario, at the Deep River Potters' Guild, but do several wood firings in the summer.
This blog originally documented my year long "journey workshop" with Steven Hill. It was an incredible "journey" which had a profound effect on my work and as was the North Bay mentorship. I highly recommend this type of workshop to anyone who is interested in exploring their work and creativity.